Come Over Into Macedonia, H. Allen

The Impossible Made Possible


As a matter of fact, considerable study was devoted to investigating the source of some of the local superstitions in order to ascertain, if possible, the need which had caused them in the beginning, long ago in the days before history, when the ancestors of these same folk had dwelt in these hills and valleys and founded a high civilization and a respectable culture.

One example of this already mentioned in a previous chapter was the long-established practice of binding the new-born infant so rigidly in swaddling clothes that he resembled a piece of cord-wood. This custom, based on some ancient lore, the fount of which has long since vanished among civilized races, is not actually so rare amongst the more backward and sheltered tribes of the world.

And although the director of the Home Welfare project in Macedonia could discover no well-defined reason for the practice, yet she realized that it was so imbedded in the habits of the peasantry that to force the issue too quickly would be flying in the face of a strong tradition and she was intelligent enough not to antagonize those she was trying to help by any outright attack in the beginning upon what was to them so venerable a way of handling infants.

What was done was to inaugurate a system of well-clinics in w'hich the infants were brought to the centers at definitely appointed times for regular inspections and check-ups. This in itself, in rural Macedonia, was an accomplishment of almost revolutionary importance.

At the centers the nurse with the aid of her teammates would see how the child was developing, make those measurements and observations which are routine with enlightened American mothers. In connection with this phase of the program an annual baby contest was conducted at each of the centers.

The matter of weaning is pertinent here. Because of a hoary superstition that nursing a baby rendered a woman less liable to pregnancy, Macedonian mothers would suckle their infants in what seemed a scandalous fashion to those better informed. Not only were the children nursed until they were three or four years old, but more than that, they were not nursed on any systematic schedule whatsoever.

Changing this situation called for great gifts of tact and persuasiveness and human understanding. And yet the sum total of improved baby-care practices in Macedonia soon presented an unanswerable argument in a greatly reduced rate of infantile mortality. The following table, treating the reduction of infant mortality in a Macedonian village of eight hundred inhabitants, where a Near East Foundation Health and Home Welfare Center was functioning, is eloquent:

Year Number of Children Born Number of Infant Deaths
1932 41 9
1933 40 6
1934 42 3
1935 48 4
1936 37 7
1937 40 3
1938 34 1

In addition it was largely through the work of these well-clinics that the local doctors, both those employed by the government and those in private practice, were led to fuller cooperation with our work.

The Greek doctors in Macedonia were intelligent and well-trained physicians, capable of high-class medical work. But they were constantly meeting so many pressing demands for curative measures that they had only a limited amount of time and energy to devote to preventative medicine, the very thing which would better the community vastly more over the years. Or stated another way, they were so occupied in treating the sick and dying that they couldn't do what they themselves knew was their larger duty ensuring the health and well-being of the whole communities they served.

But in the Home Welfare Centers they came to recognize an ally in the very work which they realized was crying to be done, and usually they enlisted in the program with hearty good will. More than that, they learned gradually that the Home Welfare Centers actually were creating a new type of business for them in that it was awakening an interest and a demand in the very sort of medical attention which they wanted most to render.

In this way many of them came to feel that the Home Welfare Centers were affording them a heaven-sent opportunity to escape from the vicious circle in which they were caught and their gratitude was expressed not only in good will and a genuine attitude of helpfulness, but also enabled them to change to a type of work which, in the long run, was bound to result in more permanent values and improvements throughout the region.

Just as the Home Welfare program came finally to represent one of the most important aspects of the whole Near East Foundation work in Macedonia, so without fear of contradiction we may say that ultimately the baby well-clinics and the good which arose from them were among the most valuable features of the Home Welfare program.

So the little day nurseries which Martha Parrott had conceived of as an opening wedge had blossomed at length into a full-blown program, centered in the villages, drawing support from the people, furnishing practical demonstrations in vital and improved living methods which promised in time to revolutionize the home life standards and the hygiene practices of a great neglected segment of the human race.

And the day nurseries themselves continued, of course, through the years. They became a permanent activity. In time, they outgrew the humble centers where they were ^tarted, were moved to larger quarters, and in some communities were incorporated into the school system. And although the villages were not capable of directing them wholly, lacking workers of sufficient talent and training, still they did contribute to them wholeheartedly from their limited means, and that in itself represented valuable support.

From the beginning of the Home Welfare program, as in all other activities, the emphasis was placed on helping the peasant to help himself. One of the most concrete examples of this was the way in which the villages contributed toward the support of the Home Demonstration Centers.

Hard-earned cash and valuable supplies were everywhere given most generously. And it is noteworthy that they were donated for these Home Welfare Centers more liberally, perhaps, than for any other phase of the Near East Foundation work with the possible exception of sanitation projects.

A refugee woman would come to the center for her mother's class, holding a toddling child by one hand, carrying a precious offering of an egg, equivalent to cash money in Macedonia, in the other, or a loaf of home-baked bread, or a little piece of beautiful handwork.

Individuals seemed actually to deprive themselves in order to make contributions, knowing that the Foundation was operating on a purely cooperative basis. There were innumerable examples of the almost pathetic eagerness evinced by the women that the centers should thrive and continue.

The villages as bodies corporate first donated thousands of drachmas from their slender resources, and, not content with that, they contributed building materials, sand, stone, gravel, cement, and more important still, a stipulated number of man hours of the hardest kind of skilled labor.

This same thread of intense interest extended into the rural cooperatives, which gave generously from their educational funds, and to various other societies and organizations, in Macedonia and elsewhere in Greece, which were anxious to further the work we were doing.

The village of Makriyalos presents perhaps the most graphic picture of this strong desire for self-betterment, and the willingness to work and sacrifice as a contribution to the advancement of the program.

One of the first of the Home Demonstration Centers had been established in this village, but the only available quarters turned out to be completely inadequate and unsatisfactory as time went by, and it was decided that the only thing to do was to close the center.

It was at this point, when we announced that we had decided to withdraw, that the village leaders came to us almost tearfully to plead that we continue this work. We explained our situation again and more carefully, but the village fathers urged us to stay and promised assistance of the most definite kind if we would reconsider the matter.

We were swayed by their eagerness, surveyed the circumstances again, investigated every avenue, and told them that the only possibility was for them to construct for us a house of our very own which could serve as the center.

To this the villagers at once agreed and most wholeheartedly. Plans were drawn, an estimate of the cost of the work was submitted and approved, and versatile Theodore Pays was placed in charge of the construction. The structure, when completed, was the joint property of the village of Makriyalos and Near East Foundation.

But the most interesting and gratifying feature of the whole project was the devoted fashion in which the villagers lived up to their part of the bargain.

In all, one hundred and twenty-three Makriyalos farmers contributed their time, and not always spare time either, toward erecting and finishing the center.

In order to transport supplies sent from Salonica by boat, and in order to get the necessary sand and gravel, a total of four hundred and three trips, each about a half mile, were made to the seashore.

The quarry from which stone for the building came was a mile and a half from the site of the construction. Twenty-two trips were made there to bring back the quarried stone.

All this volunteer labor totaled one hundred and thirty-six days, a very real contribution on the part of these refugees who were nearly always harassed for sufficient time in which to do their every-day chores.

In addition to this the community of Makriyalos itself made a number of corporate contributions. It furnished thirty-one cubic meters of building stone. It furnished eleven thousand bricks for the outside walls of the center. It furnished sixty cubic meters of sand and thirty-four of gravel.

The money value of the labor and materials provided by Near East Foundation was considerably in excess of that provided by the village of Makriyalos. But the highly important fact remains that "they gave what they had." At that time, and since, it seemed to us that this compared most favorably with the part which the Foundation provided, and we were very happy to have a Home Demonstration Center in which the village took such pride and which was the result of a most wholesome type of cooperation.

The effects of the Home Welfare program and the results accomplished by the Home Demonstration Centers were truly astonishing. To a poverty stricken people, mostly refugees, largely uneducated, downtrodden in some instances and localities by centuries of brutal tyranny, this new simple technique for self-improvement was little short of revolutionary.

The director of the program had begun her work by asking those who were going to assist her in the field, "What should we do for the women of rural Macedonia? What are the common evils besetting these unfortunate people, and how best can we combat these evils?"

From the first, it was apparent that the best method was to lead and instruct the peasant woman so that she had the desire and the technical knowledge necessary to help herself. Then, bit by bit, through practical demonstrations in the centers and especially through constant visits to her home, she should be shown the value of certain changed practices in the pattern of her day-to-day living.

In order to have some measurement of this aspect of the program, it was decided to select ten key families at each of the centers, and to keep accurate records through the years of their application and cooperation.

As the program evolved and developed, it aimed chiefly at changed practices falling into four large, comprehensive categories. As always especial emphasis was placed on the practical and the immediately applicable. Our sessions of practice teaching and teacher-training kept hammering constantly on the practical aspects of improved living in Macedonia, and we were ever on guard against vague theorizing, a tendency altogether too common with all of us.

The first of these comprehensive categories was home hygiene, and it is easy to understand the scope of the work done in the centers when we consider the specific practices which the women were encouraged to alter and improve.

We attempted, first, to inaugurate a program of proper house cleaning. In villages where the dust and dirt of centuries, literally, had accumulated, we taught the wives and mothers to give their homes a regular and thorough going-over.

All too frequently Macedonian refugee families slept together in a single, crowded, unventilated room. By and large, the peasants had never heard or thought of any other arrangement. Our workers showed them the improvement to be effected by having the children, at least, sleep in separate quarters.

Some of the peasants went to bed dressed in their clothes. Nor did they change their clothing with a regularity which might be preferred. We attacked this problem by urging them to remove their outer garments, at least, before retiring.

Since the refugee home was also the barn in many instances, what domestic animals the peasant had about the place were quartered in the house with him. We campaigned carefully to show him the wisdom of excluding the farm animals from the rooms where humans were sleeping.

Last of all, under the category of home hygiene, we championed the almost revolutionary idea that all the members of the family should have an honest-to-goodness bath at least once a month.

The second category in the program had to do with sanitation. With a certain amount of trepidation, fearful as ever of arousing rural antagonisms and thus ruining our chance to help the individual to help himself, we started a campaign for the construction of improved toilet facilities, or, in many instances, for the construction of some toilet facilities.

The kitchen of the Macedonian housewife was likely to be a cluttered and unsanitary corner of the common living room so she was given graphic examples of how she could improve these quarters.

The housewives were shown how to clean their simple kitchens, how to disinfect their toilet facilities with lime or borax, and taught the obvious advantages of so doing. They were cautioned not to allow open pots and kettles of water to stand around the houses in this malarial region, given enough of the elements of entomology, in simple terms, so that they would appreciate the reasons for this better practice.

With more than a little effort we showed them the great benefits to be derived from carefully screening the doors and windows of at least one room in the house, or having the babies in that malaria-ridden land sleep under mosquito netting. They came at length to know the value of having a screened cupboard for storing their foods and drinks, and as the fillip for this section of the program, they were urged to have a simple first-aid cabinet in the home to treat simple cuts and abrasions in an effort to reduce the frightening amount of infection which prevailed in the rural regions from the neglect of open wounds and sores and insect bites.

The third category of improved practices in the Home Welfare program dealt with food and diet. The Macedonian farmer often went days at a time without eating a warm meal, nor what we call a square meal. For this reason, the workers in the centers preached the virtues of having at least one hot dish a day.

They showed the women the value to their respective families of boiling all milk. They demonstrated by thrifty little vegetable gardens of their own the need which each family had for such gardens, the way in which it improved the family diet, its economy, the better produce which came from the home gardens as against what we might call expensive "boughten" vegetables, or no vegetables at all.

In this same area of work, we strongly pressed upon the refugees not to use all their eggs as cash money, but proved to them as conclusively and graphically as possible the actual saving and improvement to be wrought by utilizing some of the produce from their flocks for home consumption.

The last category dealt with the care of children, and here, as is natural, for the refugee clearly understood that his hopes lay in his children, we met with the greatest response.

Macedonian infants were accustomed to being bathed like the other members of the family, which is to say, seldom or not at all. But under constant friendly coaching from the workers in the Home Demonstration Centers, a considerable number of rural mothers were finally committed to a voluntary program of bathing the babies a minimum of twice a week, and we considered this a real achievement. A certain amount of dental hygiene was also included in this section of the program.

All in all, in these four categories, there were twenty-three practices which we believed could be improved. The following table shows the number of changed practices (out of the twenty-three) by the ten cooperating families in the village of Megali Vrysi over a four-year period:

List of Improved Practices Number of families changed in 1933 1934 1935 1936

1. House properly cleaned
2. House properly aired
3. Bedding aired minimum weekly
4. Separate sleeping for children
5. Outer clothing removed at night
6. Farm animals not in bedrooms
7. Baths once a month


8. Built improved toilet
9. Improved kitchen
10. Toilet cleaned regularly
11. Water not allowed to stand
12. One room screened
13. Babies under mosquito net
14. Screened cupboard
15. Home First-Aid Kit

16. One hot dish daily
17. All milk boiled
18. Vegetable garden near house
19. Home consumption of eggs

20. Babies not bound
21. Babies nursed regularly
22. Bathe babies twice a week
23. Children wash teeth daily

Note: Obviously, all the practices (those dealing with babies, for instance) cannot apply to all the families.

Almost identical statistics can be shown for the increase of improved practices in the villages of Kyrghia, Aghios Christophoros, Makriyalos, Skydra, and others.

Thus it was that by the winter of 1938, and even before that, our Home Welfare program had definitely demonstrated its value in this four-fold program of rural reconstruction. Perhaps it is not too much to say that we were pleased and gratified. We had come to the point where we were able to measure our achievements. We knew full well that the standards of living in those villages served by the Home Demonstration Centers had risen greatly. Changed practices in child care, home sanitation, general hygiene, and diet had already borne good fruit. And we were no longer dealing with the refugees alone for our Home Welfare leaders had finally won the confidence of the conservative native women as well.

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