Come Over Into Macedonia, H. Allen

The Scion "Takes"

AFTER READING thus far in this narrative, it should not come to the reader with much of a shock to learn that from the very beginning of the Near East Foundation's program of rural reconstruction in Macedonia, the individual had not been looked upon as the most important factor at all.

True, the peasant was in the fortunate position of profiting directly and very considerably from this program. Moreover the effectiveness of the whole endeavor was measured entirely by the benefits that accrued to the rural population. But, in spite of all this, the government of Greece was intended as the chief beneficiary. Our main purpose was to develop a program suitable to the peculiar circumstances in Greece, and then, as speedily as possible, to work ourselves out of a job.

In other words, after stressing for so many pages that our Macedonian project was aimed at uplifting the peasant, this is the time to confess that this forty-eight village program was fundamentally designed as a demonstration for the Greek government to be taken over, simplified, and maintained for the rural population of the whole country.

The problem that we desired to explore was how to carry to the rural citizen of Greece some of the already well-established and readily available facts that should help him to improve his conditions economically, socially, spiritually; then, having arrived at a system that seemed to be sufficiently effective and fairly economical, to demonstrate this method so forcefully that the government would wish to integrate the plan in its own framework for the benefit of the whole rural population. It is not uncommon for governments of the most liberal type to be so bound down by standard procedures and age-old traditions that it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to explore new fields of useful endeavor. Thus it frequently is left to private agencies to lead the way in developing new patterns of thought or promoting wider areas of service.

In Greece, as elsewhere in retarded sections of the world, this strange situation has developed; frequently there is a body of competent leaders (agriculturists and others) in government circles—men well-trained and often brilliant—and there is a huge, largely unlettered peasantry.

But too often there is no adequate means of bridging the chasm between them. No matter how advanced the agricultural scientists seem to be, their findings all too seldom sift down to the farmers working in the villages and fields—the men who, after all, desperately need the knowledge which the learned men seem to have in such quantities.

Therefore, it was the purpose of Near East Foundation in Macedonia to establish a laboratory in which to develop for Greece specific educational techniques designed to meet the needs of the rural population and adapted also to the peculiar conditions of the country.

This laboratory was to test these techniques in every conceivable way and then to demonstrate to responsible agencies of the government the methods that were developed to span that gap between the highly educated and highly uneducated.

Finally, and most important of all, it was the aim of this program and of all Near East Foundation programs, to build these new methods into the educational structure of the country in a permanent fashion.

Now there are various ways of integrating different kinds of programs in foreign lands. If we have developed a school, let us say, the problem is relatively simple. There is the physical plant —the building and the grounds—and it is possible to transfer these to the government in toto. Furthermore, the native personnel will have been gradually prepared for the shift in leadership and will be eager to cooperate in making the change, especially when they understand the principle involved. And this new school will represent just that much of a contribution to the sum total of all the schools needed in the country.

The same principle is involved in the transfer of playgrounds, hospitals, and any program centered on physical equipment.

But in the case of our plan in Macedonia, the program involved certain intangibles. We were really trying to integrate an idea, one which was strange, in the main, to Greek rural life, and this difference complicated enormously our problem of integration.

In addition, as an aftermath of the great refugee situation, the few government agricultural men that were available were wholly, sometimes desperately, occupied with problems of land division, providing adequate shelter, tools, seeds and livestock and in settling the innumerable local squabbles that inevitably took place. Thus they could not even dream of a down-to-earth program of rural extension such as the country really needed for its long-time development. Gradually, however, the Greek government was coming to realize that its rural extension system was altogether inadequate and too superficial to be very effective. Although it had felt in the beginning that our program was prohibitively expensive, it was becoming convinced that our methods were practical and effective; and it did not seem nearly so expensive when it was perceived that we combined in one program rural education and extension. Moreover, when at length we were able to prove that our program created many times its cost in increased income, we found that we had presented the clinching argument.

As we have pointed out in other sections of this book, there are three essential steps involved in launching a program such as ours. First there is the exploratory stage; then there is the period of development and demonstrations; and, finally, there is the process of integration.

But clearly defined as these three phases are, one discovers when engaging in such a venture that there is no sharp line of demarkation between exploring and developing-—between demonstrating and integrating—but rather that the work, after the initial exploration, moves steadily ahead and the difference between one phase and another is merely a gradual change of emphasis as one stage merges with the next.

We have in the Macedonian program a good example of how far this merging process sometimes may extend. A vital element in the eventual integration of the agricultural section of the work was injected into the program as early as the very beginning of the so-called demonstration stage.

It will be recalled that Basil Moussouros was discovered and sent to America for special training in rural education at the end of my first year in Macedonia and just before the actual demonstration got under way. We made this move in the firm conviction that trained local leaders, including a few key men, would be urgently needed no matter how the program might develop. As we have already seen, this was a fortunate move. Moussouros returned after his year of postgraduate study to participate actively in the developing program while it was still in the formative stage. As a salaried civil service representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, he was able to speak with considerable authority as he moved about the country among government employees as well as our own men. His official connections gave added standing to our work. He made it his business to keep the Ministry of Agriculture constantly informed regarding the development of our program. This practice combined with his frequent suggestions for relating our activities ever more closely to those of the government, made Moussouros a vital factor in the gradual integration of our whole program. When in 1937 he was called back to Athens to be made special assistant in charge of agricultural education for the whole country, the cycle of integration became virtually complete. We shall have more to say about this later.

One of the first moves we made in our determined efforts to place our program within the administrative framework of the country was an attempt to secure civil service for all of our workers beginning with the agricultural men. We felt that if we could do this we would at least bequeath to the Greek government a body of trained leaders who could not easily be eliminated and who would sometime make their influence felt for the benefit of the rural population.

There are two ways to accomplish this. One was to induce the Ministry of Agriculture to assign to us young men who were already civil service employees of the government. The other method was to secure by some means civil service status for the men already in our employ. Quite early in this program we enjoyed a certain amount of success in following the first plan. We induced the Minister of Agriculture to assign to us two or three government men of our own selection. Apart from this civil service question this was an indication of official approval which was most encouraging. But one of the men later died of tuberculosis; a second was not too successful as a leader. Consequently, this line of action never affected the final solution of this problem to any large degree.

And so we turned to the other possibility, that of securing civil service for the agricultural leaders whom we ourselves had engaged and trained. Systematically and relentlessly we pressed this point. There were endless conferences and discussions; months dragged on into years. In focusing so much attention on this problem, the agricultural men began to attach a disproportionate importance to the question of civil service. There were a few unfortunate occurrences as a result of the tension and dissatisfaction which this created. This was especially true of the agricultural workers when by a sudden turn of events civil service was secured for certain leaders in other departments almost overnight and with little appearance of effort. It seemed on the surface that we were not doing our utmost for the hard-working agricultural members of our staff.

It was not until the fall of 1935 that we succeeded in taking what might be considered as the first official step in the direction of solving this problem. At that time we drew up with the Ministry of Agriculture a memorandum of agreement designating the Verria-Edessa Region as the national demonstration area of the Near East Foundation in Macedonia. This was a highly significant move in the direction of relating ourselves more closely to the government. This memorandum recognized the question of civil service for our agricultural workers as a problem ultimately to be solved. Such official recognition of this problem was all that we needed. It gave us sufficient basis for negotiating the question with the various ministries concerned and we pressed the matter from all sides.

Many difficulties were encountered and frequent interruptions in the proceedings were caused by changes in the government and shifts in the cabinet. But each new Minister of Agriculture was most cordial, and month by month the negotiations progressed until finally a satisfactory law was drafted. This act provided that Foundation agriculturists able to fulfill certain qualifications would be admitted into full civil status by the Ministry. It is hardly necessary to detail our feelings of satisfaction and relief when the decree was at length approved by the Ministries of Finance and Agriculture and signed by the King.

We have said that there is no clear line of demarkation between one stage of the program and another. This is entirely true. The boundary is never a line but a zone.

In August 1935, however, we felt that we had definitely entered the third period of our work when the integration of what we had thus far developed would be our constant aim. From that time on our monthly and annual reports dealt almost exclusively with this phase of the developing program, and particularly as regards the agricultural side of our efforts. On the date indicated above the memorandum of agreement was signed between Near East Foundation and the Ministry of Agriculture.

This memorandum #98595 designated a certain region, the so-called Verria-Edessa district, as the National Demonstration Area in rural education and extension. As already mentioned it took cognizance of the important problem of civil service for our agricultural employees and was the instrument that led ultimately to the solution of this question. But there were several other advantages of this memorandum. One was that it gave to our Macedonian program an official recognition that had previously been lacking.

It had always been the policy of Near East Foundation to engage in activities in a foreign country only upon the express and distinct invitation of the government concerned. But in the case of the Macedonian project, this was not technically the situation, since at the time we embarked on our program, Near East Relief—our parent organization—was still laboring to relieve the suffering which resulted from the Smyrna disaster.

It is true that early in 1928 Barclay Acheson, the last executive director of Near East Relief, had discussed with Prime Minister Venizelos the possibility of eliminating all relief activities and of chartering a new organization that would deal only with practical education and primarily with rural reconstruction. On that occasion the Prime Minister had emphasized his hope that something systematic in the way of rural education would be attempted without waiting for this new organization that Dr. Acheson had mentioned. He promised the full support of himself and his government whenever anything of this nature should be attempted.

This is one of the reasons why Macedonia was selected in the first place for this experiment. And it will be recalled that Prime Minister Venizelos fully lived up to his promise of all-out support. It was this backing from such high quarters that secured for me such hearty cooperation and assistance that first year.

But the fact remains that our invitation to launch a program of rural education and extension in Greece was hardly as clear cut as it was in the case of most of the other governments with which we collaborated. In Greece the transition from Near East Relief to Near East Foundation was almost imperceptible to many of the government officials as well as to the general population. In most of the other countries there was a complete liquidation of the old relief program, a period of inactivity and then an invitation to Near East Foundation to undertake the new type of work that was so greatly needed.

This is the situation that the new agreement helped greatly to improve. There were other important benefits.

For one thing, the creation of an officially designated area for our work resulted in considerable concentration and this in turn made it much easier and cheaper to supervise the program. Two of the eight districts which at that time were maintained by the Macedonian program were already operating in the assigned region, and to these were added three more districts by transferring for this purpose three of our men who had been serving in the more distant districts of Drama, Angista and Serres. This brought the total number of villages benefiting by our program in the new demonstration area to thirty.

It was considered unwise to effect too rapid a concentration of the work, and for this reason the districts of Porroia, Kilkis and Katerini were left undisturbed except for slight shifts in the personnel. However, even with these three districts left outside the new area for the time being, the whole program was now brought within fairly easy reach of the Salonica headquarters, and this represented a much more satisfactory arrangement.

The work of the ensuing year under the new set-up enjoyed several definite advantages. Foundation agriculturists working in the new official area felt that they were now direct representatives of the government, and this increased not only their prestige, but also the effectiveness of their relationships with the villagers. This was made something more than just a nominal fact by the action of the Government Agricultural Director of Verria in visiting each village and himself officially introducing our men to the population.

Another benefit made possible by the new arrangement was the addition of numerous experimental plots, organized by our men but financed almost entirely by the Government Agricultural Office. In the past, as a result of our own policy and also from lack of funds, we had confined our instruction to a few well-established practices.

But in a region with such a variety of soil and climatic conditions it had frequently been difficult to determine whether a practice suited to one village was equally adapted to another area quite near by. Actually, many practices had to be modified and adapted to the individual village, and even crop varieties suited to one farmer were not practical for a neighboring farmer.

This problem was now properly recognized by the action of the Government Agricultural Office in making available certain funds for the financing of experimental plots maintained by our men in cooperation with individual farmers. In all, thirty-two experimental plots were organized and twenty-eight completed by Foundation agriculturists during the first year of the new arrangement, including numerous experiments maintained in the Porroia, Kilkis, and Katerini districts.

As a matter of fact the advantages which grew out of our new official relationships with the government were accorded to us not only by the Director of the Demonstration Area, but also almost to the same extent by the directors of the three outlying districts. Consequently our whole program was now on a much more official basis.

One of the big advantages of the new arrangement was that all rural workers in the official concentration area, whether Near East Foundation personnel or government employees, could very appropriately be included in any important activity or special project that had to do with the welfare of the region. This principle was particularly applicable in connection with our agricultural training conferences. That very first season we held our mid-winter institute, not in Salonica or in Athens, but in the town of Verria in the heart of our new area. Furthermore, all government workers whether field agriculturists or directors attached to the office of that district were invited to the conference; and they came.

They participated in all of the discussions; they exchanged ideas with our men during evenings and lunch hours; they went on the excursions we conducted to our various centers to observe the instruction given in schools to the out-of-school youth and for the adult farmers. The larger number involved made our conferences much more inspiring. Our men profited tremendously from the wider exchange of ideas. It proved to the country the oneness of our purpose and resulted in inoculating a great many people with the concepts we were trying to spread.

The result of transferring so much of our work to a new region was not without certain difficulties at least during the first year. In the first place much time was consumed in surveying and selecting the villages to be covered. Some rearrangement of the two Verria districts already operating was necessary. It took an appreciable amount of time for a new man to become acquainted with his people and with their problems, and the momentum already gained in former villages was lost, naturally, as these men began anew the necessary foundation work.

Added to all this was the fact that the Verria-Edessa region suffered that first year from almost continuous floods from December until May, ruining many of the farmers and washing out numerous projects and experimental plots maintained by our men.

These temporary setbacks applied not only to the agricultural activities, but also to the Departments of Recreation, Sanitation and Home Welfare. In general, however, we were highly satisfied with the new arrangement. In addition to the advantages already noted, the proximity of the work to the main office now made it possible to take important officials and interested visitors on tours of inspection which previously had been quite out of the question.

In the fall of 1937 I discovered to my great surprise and satisfaction that a law had been passed giving to the farmers of Greece a practical system of agricultural extension. This vital step had been taken with so little fanfare that we knew nothing about it until we received a copy of the directive that was sent out to the government agricultural men of the country. On looking over this document it seemed to us that we were reading a summary of our Macedonian program of agricultural extension. It appeared from this that the agricultural phase of our demonstration had at last been effective; that the long process of integration was now complete, at least as far as a working blue print was concerned.

The new law achieved several things of importance. In the first place it defined two types of workers in the field—the county agriculturist or district supervisor and the community agriculturist who was to work directly with the peasants on their farms.

The community agriculturists were to be responsible for not more than five to six villages; they were to live with the people they were expected to serve; they were to interest themselves in all phases of village betterment, and not confine themselves entirely to questions for agricultural improvement; they were to maintain a sympathetic and understanding relationship with the peasants; they were to promote only those practices that were well-established for the locality; they were not to be occupied with any questions relating to refugee settlement. Problems of this nature were assigned specifically to the county agriculturist. By this simple division of labor the new extension system was given an opportunity to move forward into constructive effort.

The duties of the county agriculturists, who were really the supervisors, made interesting reading for those of us who had been working for so many years for a development of this kind. They were required to:

Secure, in cooperation with their community leaders, up-to-date information concerning farm conditions in their various localities.
Plan yearly and long-time programs of agricultural improvement.
Locate, and cooperate with, the most progressive farmers in attaining these objectives.
Provide proper training in service for their field men.
Provide facilities for demonstrations and experiments where necessary.
Promote tree nurseries for reforestation campaigns.
Maintain a central store, in collaboration with the local cooperative, for tools, machinery, insecticides and farm supplies most likely to be needed.
Handle all questions relating to the settlement of refugees.

We could go on with this analysis, but this is sufficient to indicate that the new agricultural extension law represented a definite milestone in the agricultural services of Greece. Of course in a country of five to six thousand rural villages it would be impossible to provide all at once the one thousand or so agricultural leaders that were required under the new plan. But plans were envisioned for making an immediate start. Article 31, Paragraph 5 of the new decree stated that steps would be taken to ensure the appointment of about five hundred community agriculturists within the next two years. Of this number something over two hundred of these positions could be filled by men already in the service. Eighty would be appointed the following year and the remaining two hundred of the first quota very shortly thereafter.

Rural Greece was in for some definite improvement. Had it not been for Hitler and his gang of racketeers the country would have continued to enjoy steady economic improvement instead of the slow starvation that the Nazis imposed.

Almost simultaneously with the passage of the new agricultural extension law, Basil Moussouros received the Ministry appointment that was mentioned earlier in this chapter. At the same time we were able to arrange with a cooperative government for another carefully selected civil service employee to be assigned to us as the Ministry of Agriculture representative in this important work. Thus we were protected and an unusual opportunity for valuable experience and training opened up for another young man of the country.

Moussouros went to his new post eminently well qualified to crown it with outstanding success. He was grounded in the practical technique of rural education. Through him our whole Macedonian program now stood a chance of becoming grafted on the administrative branch of the country, exactly as we had intended from the beginning; and of this Moussouros himself was quite aware. His fertile mind was constantly on the alert to improve the agricultural schools of the country, to relate their training more closely to the needs of the farmer, to emphasize the educational aspects of the extension service, and, even though he was not directly connected with this latter bureau of the ministry, to do what he could to vitalize this branch of the service. His broad training and wide experience was instantly recognized in the ministry of Agriculture for its worth. The minister himself developed the habit of calling on Moussouros for memoranda relating to rural life. When the war broke out not long after this and brought to an abrupt halt all rural progress, Moussouros had several pieces of legislation relating to agricultural education in various stages of development.

It appeared that the agricultural phase of our program had completed a cycle. We had finally built into the framework of the country a sufficient proportion of the scheme to consider that this part of our demonstration had attained its original objectives.

Naturally some of our Greek workers were troubled. While they were steeped in our policies of government collaboration and ultimate integration they were in the position of feeling that these same policies now affected them personally and adversely. After all, it began to appear that they had actually worked themselves out of a job. Certainly this was true of their director who was leaving for America more or less because of this very fact. It was all right for him because he could return to a land of many opportunities. But how about their immediate problem of securing a livelihood for themselves ? They still had their jobs, but how long would these positions last in a program that seemed to have fulfilled its mission?

We arranged to have our last training conference in August of 1938 just before my departure for America. As one feature of the institute, we explored together the future of our agricultural program as I saw it.

I explained again the principle of integration as Near East Foundation tried to apply this principle. I emphasized that this was about the only method, not only of collaborating with other governments, but also of showing good faith in our claim of having no ulterior motives in our mission of rural reconstruction.

I reviewed the fact that we had been trying to demonstrate and then to integrate an idea; that one idea leads to another;

that one task well performed somehow leads to new responsibilities. I explained that if our Macedonian project had been keeping in step with developments in Greece and if also we had kept in touch with progressive thinking in this field of education in other parts of the world, we would soon be confronted with new opportunities for demonstrations as previous objectives were reached. In fact, if this philosophy were to prevail, as we had every right to expect, our program might be considered as a continuously operating laboratory in rural education.

Our men wanted this point of view more clearly defined. What might we expect the new horizons to be in the next period of activity ?

The answer was not hard to provide.

In the first place if invited by the government of Greece to do so (as no doubt we would) we had an almost sacred obligation to help in putting the new land into operation in order that it might become the success that it should. If we did not meet this challenge, the new law might become a boomerang and we would be accused of promoting an idea that, after all, was not suited to rural Greece. Thus far the law was largely on paper. It needed to be translated into a smooth-running educational service and better farm practices for the peasants. This required field workers thoroughly trained in the techniques of rural education and extension. It required, as we all know, close supervision. It presupposed field men who knew how to put over their ideas. Our part in the coming era would be to help the government to make this new law really function. This would necessitate a period of another five or ten years.

In this new program we would reduce considerably the size of our demonstration area. We would keep only two or three good agricultural men who would demonstrate continuously just how this system should operate. As the Ministry of Agriculture took on new community agriculturists, they would place them with our men for short intensive periods of training. We had ample proof that this would work for a similar system was already in operation in connection with our sanitation program. Furthermore, we would utilize the money saved in maintaining a smaller area in sending selected leaders, including several of our own men, to America for special training. They would then return to Greece to become the supervisors that were required under the new law.

We had indeed worked ourselves out of one job and into a larger and more challenging task. Although our immediate objectives had been realized—although our demonstration as originally conceived, had become the law of the land, although the scion which was grafted to the main stock, had finally "taken" — still a great challenge confronted us in the years that lay immediately ahead.

For those who would tackle the enlarging circle of problems with vision, courage, and persistence, this was but the first successful engagement in the everlasting war against adverse nature, to make Greece, and the whole world, a better place in which to live.

My Greek friends seemed relieved and I felt satisfied with the philosophy I had so carefully expounded.

Unfortunately I had not reckoned with Hitler and his consuming ambition for world domination and total destruction. I had failed to foresee that this was so soon to engulf even Greece.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]