Come Over Into Macedonia, H. Allen


THE GREEKS normally are a patient, philosophical people. Americans, on the other hand, are likely, under pressure, to become highly excitable, very much in a rush to get something done in the shortest time possible. On such occasions, we are likely to hear the Greek whisper softly to himself, "Siga, siga"; or, perhaps, in frank admonition say quietly but firmly to his American friend, "Siga, siga; slowly, slowly, take it easy, take it easy."

This is rather good advice when given to persons who are nervously inclined, who tend, on occasion, to hurry through a task, who expect too much in too short a time, who are unwilling or unable to proceed slowly and to build solidly as they go. Altogether, it is not a bad philosophy for the average American who finds himself striving mightily to bring about progress among an underprivileged people.

"Siga—siga" describes concisely the studied procedure we tried always to follow in our whole approach to the complex problem of reconstruction in rural Macedonia. Even more accurately does this significant phrase of the Greeks suggest the process by which much of our work was woven firmly into the fabric of the country—slowly, slowly, little by little.

We have narrated in some detail how success finally crowned our long and painstaking efforts to graft an effective farm extension program on the agricultural services of the state. We have reported how our approach to the nation-wide problem of sanitation made its appeal to the leaders of the country and was forthwith assimilated almost overnight.

But not all of our activities were integrated in quite so definite and clear-cut a manner. Some of the work, as for instance, the home welfare program, was, no doubt, a little too far ahead of the times and the place. This was true, however, not of the common people in their attitude toward improved home practices, but of government agencies that were not quite ready, as yet, to adopt a program of this kind as a part of the educational or welfare service of the country.

Greece could think in terms of an improved agricultural extension service or in terms of more modern sanitation or of health centers or baby well-clinics, however advanced these modern ideas might be. It was considerably more difficult for the average official to visualize a national agency that had for its main purpose the development of better rural homes.

It will be recalled we perceived, early in our explorations, that there was a definite need for considering better homes as the principal objective of one important aspect of our work. In this we agreed most heartily with Dr. Thomas Jesse Jones that sound training in all phases of home life is a vital essential in any well-rounded program of education. We have already pointed out that child care, disease prevention and first-aid became, under this concept, important means to better home life rather than ends in themselves. And, of course, there were the usual domestic science considerations of food, clothing, and home management. Such a program required for its proper direction a woman thoroughly experienced as an instructor of home economics and one knowing also a good deal about agriculture ; for this leader must of necessity possess a thorough knowledge of food production as a vital part of the Macedonian theory of the woman's place in the home.

Such a concept required an organization quite foreign to anything in the thinking of Greek leaders, or of most Americans either, for that matter. This made the problem of integration exceedingly difficult for that particular branch of our work. Either we would have to change our whole approach to the problem of rural womanhood and the home or else we would have to wait until such time as influential leaders of the country caught up with this unusual idea of home education.

We thought we saw some possibility of progress shortly after Basil Moussouros took over the Bureau of Agricultural Education at the Ministry in Athens. Moussouros suddenly expounded a refreshing theory which seemed to us to offer great hope for the women of rural Greece. In pondering these problems and thinking back over his several years of experience in Macedonia, Moussouros one day came to the proper realization of a fact he had long known; namely, that the Greek peasant woman played as vital a role as a breadwinner as her farm-minded husband. Since this was the case, she obviously was as much a responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture as her husband. Thus, on this premise, it was highly important to the economy of the country, and therefore entirely up to the Ministry of Agriculture, to develop a suitable program of home welfare with all that this implied from our down-to-earth experience in Macedonia.

Once having arrived at this conviction, Moussouros began drafting the necessary laws to meet this situation. In line with his thoughtful conservative ways, he consulted his friends and advisors both in and out of the Ministry of Agriculture. They encouraged him in his pioneering efforts. Important developments in the field of rural education as applied to home welfare were definitely in the making. Had not the war put a stop to all progress, several of these ideas undoubtedly would have been applied toward the solution of this problem and the Greek system of agricultural education would eventually have included reasonable consideration of rural womanhood and the home.

But even though the home welfare program could not at this time be adopted by any Ministry of the government, certain of its parts were being assimilated by local communities and towns. We can summarize here only a few of the many examples of this type of integration.

When in 1935 the Macedonian demonstration was concentrated largely in the Verria region, important activities had to be dropped in communities where a good start had been made. In several cases, this was most unfortunate for it seemed likely that just a little longer stay in the place might result in the communities themselves continuing, with only slight assistance, the enterprises we had cooperatively undertaken. There were instances, however, where the communities carried on from where we left off.

A case in point is the village of Kyrghia. Kyrghia enjoyed all the services that our four-fold program had to offer. It was one of the first villages to have a home demonstration center. The special feature of this, which the villagers prided above all others, was the summer day-nursery which enabled mothers to work in the tobacco fields of that area without the responsibility of small children constantly at their heels. So important to its economic welfare did Kyrghia consider this practical project that when we were forced to close the work in that distant center, the town itself appropriated the necessary funds and carried on with the help of the school authorities. At one time there was considerable agitation for the construction of a community center which would lend itself to summer use as a day nursery. Interest in this development arose out of the fact that the school of this little settlement was inadequate to the needs of a day nursery.

Kilkis, a Macedonian town of some eight or ten thousand people, watched with envy as the near by village of Megali Vrysi, with its one hundred and fifty farm families, enjoyed prenatal training courses and a baby well-clinic. The one or two doctors of Kilkis who cooperated with our staff in checking periodically on the babies of Megali Vrysi saw the infant mortality rate steadily decline in that little village. The Prefect of the district and the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church were also fully aware of the progress that was taking place in that small section of their own area. Finally, the contrast to their own backward situation was too much for these intelligent leaders and Kilkis established a child clinic of its own. Until the program in Kilkis was well under way, our Megali Vrysi girls were permitted to go into town once a week to help get the work properly started.

As the approaching world war seriously curtailed travel even Megali Vrysi had to be dropped. But the villagers carried on with a small subsidy from our budget and an occasional visit from one of our supervisors, with the result that the summer day-nursery continued to function until the incoming Nazis completely overran the whole region.

Interestingly enough, the home welfare program had a rather unusual influence entirely outside and beyond the boundaries of Greece. As a matter of fact, it was intended from the first that the rural programs in Greece should function as a sort of train-ins center for American workers sent overseas as well as a model for the whole of the Near East. And in this field of endeavor, it can be stated that the home welfare department undoubtedly had a much wider influence than any other branch of our work. Individuals concerned with rural missions came to see the program from Egypt, the Sudan, India, China, Burma, and South Africa. And it was always the home welfare these visitors seemed to have heard about and wanted most to see. The government of Cyprus sent young women to be trained in Macedonia. The Royal Nursing School of Tirana, Albania, assigned Moslem girls to spend several months in getting first-hand experience in the home aspect of nursing. If this department had done nothing more than function as a laboratory for developing practical methods of home education, it would have served a highly useful purpose and, in fact, completely justified its existence.

Everything we have had to say in this chapter with regard to home welfare applies almost equally well to the department of recreation. This important phase of our work functioned in much the same way as far as the matter of integration was concerned. In this case, however, it is doubtful if we could soon have expected any agency of the government to carry on in exactly the same manner that we did. Nor was this altogether necessary for the country at large.

But to round out our demonstration we needed this project as leaven for the whole rural program. As we early discovered "man does not live by bread alone" and for purposes of our experiment we finally developed the re-creational approach that seemed to be needed. Again we had a sort of continuously operating laboratory in the special field of this endeavor. From this busy laboratory there emerged from time to time practical ideas that somehow filtered out to the whole country. A few examples of this beneficial trend should prove of more than passing interest.

One day the pupils and the teacher of Megali Panaghia made one of the frequent excursions that were common in Greece. They stopped at the village of Hersovo in the Kilkis area. There they found to their great delight the complete set of playground apparatus that we had provided the school on our usual fifty-fifty basis. The children had a marvelous time playing on the swings, the see-saws, the horizontal bars while the Hersovo pupils made full use of the opportunity to show off their skill and prowess in such stunts as skinning-the-cat, chinning the bar, climbing the pole, and doing tricks with the rings. When it came time for the party to go, the teacher found it difficult to get his children to leave.

When they returned home, they reported their experiences so enthusiastically that the village council finally sent one of its members to Hersovo to find out what it was this village had that so appealed to their children. They were impressed with the simple equipment which they saw and particularly with the fact that these pieces could be made in their own shops.

The teacher of Hersovo suggested that they might be able to secure help from the Near East Foundation office in Salonica. They applied and we provided all the necessary plans and specifications. However, we could not share in the cost of this equipment, as we seldom went outside of our own area in these financial arrangements. Our purpose was to make a demonstration and not to help the whole of Greece in providing services or supplying equipment.

But this was no serious handicap to Megali Panaghia. They found the necessary funds, the various pieces of apparatus were constructed, and two months after the Hersovo visit the children of Megali Panaghia were enjoying their own exciting equipment.

This was one of many such instances. Theodore Pays kept on hand a supply of drawings and specifications for just such calls as these, and he was always glad to provide them upon request.

One year Pays undertook to advertise his playground equipment in a rather unusual fashion. Some ten or fifteen miles outside of the city of Salonica is a little seaside resort called New Phaleron. Before the war, New Phaleron consisted of a few summer shacks, one coffee house, several tables and chairs under a thatched roof and two or three crude dressing rooms for bathers. But it was a popular spot and on weekends and holidays there were hundreds of picnickers and bathers. Pays frequented the place himself practically every weekend he was in town during the summer season. One time while watching groups of young people and families with children playing in the sun and romping on the sand an appealing idea came to Pays. He decided to make a deal with the proprietor of the place to put up a few pieces of playground apparatus which he had in his possession while waiting for a certain school to raise its share of the cost. An arrangement was effected and the equipment proved to be such a drawing card for his patrons that the man was loath to have the things removed at the end of the season. The next year the proprietor arranged for a set of his own for which he willingly paid.

The real point of this account is that this little stunt resulted in the widespread adoption of Theodore's playground equipment in many spacious yards of Macedonian schools. Altogether this must have had a wholesome effect on hundreds of pupils who just naturally gravitated to this appealing equipment during recess periods. As a result, many of these children were kept from pastimes that might have been far less beneficial.

As indicated in an earlier part of this chapter, several cooperating villages were left outside of our demonstration area at the time the program was concentrated in the Verria region. As we have seen, this removed from our supervision several activities that were just getting nicely under way. These included, in addition to the Home Welfare activities already mentioned, several Future Farmer clubs. Some of these were so firmly entrenched that they continued to operate successfully after our support was entirely withdrawn. One of these clubs, in the village of Vesniko, had promoted music lessons. This activity continued to function to such an extent and so successfully that the members began to play for little gatherings about the countryside. Another Future Farmer Club maintained its identity long after we had withdrawn from the area with only an occasional advisory visit on the part of Pays. This club continued its program of large-scale reforestation of a near by mountainside. If those seedlings, now grown to fairly sizable trees, have not been cut or burned down during the invasion of the Nazis, the near by fields must now be better watered for the production of food so urgently needed.

The city of Drama which was a metropolis of some sixty-five thousand people saw a village in an outlying section develop a neat little reading room under the direction of the Foundation's Recreational Leader. As a matter of fact, the Mayor, the School Inspector, and several other officials from the city participated in the dedication exercises when the Kyrghia reading room was first opened. Later on they visited the village from time to time and occasionally saw accounts of the reading room in the local paper.

The citizens of Drama suddenly awoke to the realization that this little outlying village enjoyed a privilege which they did not possess. Someone recalled that years before, when Drama was only a little community under Turkish rule, the Greek people had their own small library. This library consisted of some three hundred volumes which, during the first Balkan Wars, had been turned over to the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church for safe keeping. A committee was appointed to investigate the matter. Sure enough, the books were eventually located. With these old volumes as a nucleus and with the blessing of the Church and the cooperation of the Mayor, Drama proceeded to organize a community reading room. Theodore Pays was consulted, and he gladly turned over his own carefully prepared lists of books and various publications. It was not long before Drama boasted of a good library.

Even the modern city of Salonica with its three hundred thousand souls turned to our little village program for inspiration and leadership in organizing a city library.

And so, slowly, slowly, little by little, the process of integration went on; not always obvious, certainly not in any dramatic way, but quietly and effectively, in the direction of a more wholesome, much fuller life for rural Greece.

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