The Recreation Department Hits Its Stride
IN CHAPTER VIII, I told of the early struggles of the recreation department. This essential element of rural life was the first to be added to our demonstration after the basic agricultural program had been properly inaugurated. It will be recalled that this activity was calculated to be "re-creational" as well as recreational. There was need for something of this nature in a country so beset by the problems of a vast immigration in a region where the business of day-to-day living was so grim that except for the smoke-filled coffee houses and the occasional church festivals there was little recreation of an organized nature. In Greece in general and in Macedonia in particular, there seemed to be nothing analogous to the Spanish bull-fight, the German choral societies, or the American predilection for baseball, football, and prize-fighting. And going on the assumption that humans need something more than endless labor and the bare essentials of living to lead full and useful lives, we undertook to provide that something more.
Under Theodore Pays the recreation department tackled this problem of furnishing recreational and re-creational activities to the rural population of our Macedonian area with intelligence, imagination and vigor.
It will be remembered that the village reading rooms were out-fitted with books, games, charts, pictures and stereopticon slides as early as 1931. This was followed almost immediately by the loan sets, and soon thereafter by the much-publicized donkey libraries. In addition, playgrounds in the demonstration areas were provided with simple equipment. Athletic contests were arranged in the villages, and the champions vied later at district and regional meets.
Nevertheless, in spite of the obvious good which resulted from these activities, it was apparent to those directing the program that something was lacking. The recreational program, in spite of much bustle, was amorphous. It was groping. It had no nucleus, no unifying core which tied all these various activities together.
This need for a coordinating principle in the recreation department was becoming increasingly serious as time passed. We had already spent several years in exploratory efforts. Many projects had been undertaken only to be dropped again because of this same lack of coordination, because of weakness in the village leadership, and because they could gather no impetus from other already nourishing recreational projects.
Such a unifying policy had been achieved in other sections of the program. The six-village scheme of the agricultural program was developed early. We have seen how the Home Welfare work was neatly coordinated by the adoption of the Home Demonstration Center as the basis of a program of education for rural women. We observed how our efforts in the field of rural sanitation thrived mightily as soon as a unifying policy— that of confining the projects to those which could be developed out of local resources and with local labor—was inaugurated.
So while these other three essentials of rural life were already making much progress on solid foundations, the Recreation Department was still floundering, still struggling to whip itself into some sort of cohesion.
At about this time, while on a trip to America, I had been furnished by old friends of mine with considerable material concerning the "Future Farmers of America" organization. Upon my return I turned all this material over to Theodore Pays with the comment that perhaps there was something there which he could use in his Macedonian work.
I well remember how, a few days later, Pays practically burst into my office. His face was bright with excitement, and his eyes danced. "This is it!" he exclaimed.
At first he was in such a worked-up state that it was difficult to get at the core of his excitement. But it seemed that he had been devouring the materials I had given him. His facile imagination had started to ferment with new ideas. He was certain that a "Future Farmers of Greece" could be organized, and that it would serve as the coordinating influence we had been searching for. The more he waxed enthusiastic about this thought, the more I was inclined to agree with him. Here, at long last, might be the unifying element for which we had been striving so hard.
Pays applied himself at once to a thorough investigation of the whole question. He made extensive inquiries and compiled much valuable information.
There existed one situation throughout the Macedonian villages which merited serious study and attention. From the time they left school at twelve or fourteen, until they were ready for military service and were acknowledged men, boys were in a quite ambiguous position. There was a period of several years in their lives during which they were neither boys nor men, and during which they had inadequate leadership and insufficient interests of a constructive nature to keep them busy, happy, and out of mischief. By and large, their own parents were overburdened with the single problem of gaining a livelihood for the family and there was no one to assume responsibility for their guidance outside of the home.
Naturally, we were not the first to discover this untutored gap in the life of the Macedonian boy. The great Boy Scout movement had recognized the need for guidance for youth of this age in Greece, and had labored long and hard to step into the breach.
But in all charity it must be admitted that the Boy Scout movement in Greece never quite filled the need. An inherent weakness of youth organizations in this part of the world was that, with any provocation at all, vying political interests tended to militarize them for their own ends, and of course this was a disaster to an organization like the Scouts. It struggled mightily under its handicap, finally had to recognize defeat especially in rural districts, and had to withdraw largely from that field.
We had pondered the possibility of introducing into the Near East the 4-H Club idea in which a program of home projects is utilized to romanticize rural life. But this movement too had a fatal flaw, as far as our purposes were concerned. It collided head on with the patriarchal system which prevailed throughout this part of the world. Under that system, the father was the head of the family in no uncertain terms. The farm, the crops, the animals, everything belonged to him, and he would seldom abdicate part of his authority to the extent of allowing his sons individual home projects as is the common practice of American farm fathers.
Yet in spite of these obstacles, Pays and I were convinced that there was an opening here, a need and a way to meet it. If the projected organization of the Future Farmers of Greece could avoid the pitfalls of militarization and of challenging the patriarchal system, it could accomplish much toward the betterment of youth in peasant Macedonia. It was true that the Future Farmers as developed in its original setting was based largely on the philosophy of the individual home project. But there were other valuable features of the movement that seemed to make it particularly well suited to the youth needs of rural Macedonia.
Consequently Pays devoted himself wholeheartedly toward adapting the Future Farmers of America to the needs and the circumstances of Macedonian Greece. He enlisted the aid of our friend, Philip Dragoumis, Governor General of Macedonia, and interested him in the program. The Governor General, himself a trustee of a Greek-American Agricultural School in the Province of Epirus, recognized at once the helpful features of such a program, and assigned an attorney to assist Pays in drafting a constitution which would achieve the approval of the Court, for unless the Crown approved of the organization it could not exist at all under the laws of Greece.
This necessary Court approval was at length secured, and the Board of Judges of the Superior Court of Salonica, under Act No. 521, recognized the authority of the Future Farmers of Greece to:
1. Carry out agricultural projects.
2. Organize and supervise reading rooms with donkey-traveling libraries.
3. Promote athletic contests.
4. Carry out minor community projects.
5. Give theatrical and motion picture shows.
6. Organize small orchestras of string instruments.
7. Publish a pamphlet for young men and boys known as
We can also get a fairly good idea of the purpose of the organization by examining the oath taken by each member at his initiation.
THE OATH OF THE FUTURE FARMER
Having been honored by election to active membership in a local chapter of the Future Farmers of Greece, I pledge myself:
To strive to the best of my ability toward the advancement of my country.
To work for the improvement of my own village, considering this as the logical and natural means of working for my country.
To this end I pledge myself to cooperate in all community activities
undertaken by my "Omilos" (Club) for the improvement of the agricultural,
health, recreational, and cultural condition of my village. I pledge myself
to do my part to keep all activities and discussions of this group entirely
free from politics.
From the constitution of the Future Farmers of Greece comes this final summary of its high aims: "It is designed to promote recreational and educational activites for village youth; to create a love of country life; to encourage teamwork for the sake of service to the community and the country; to strengthen the confidence of the village boy in himself and his work; to promote thrift and endurance; to develop leadership by preparation for future responsibility and opportunities; to study scientific methods in agriculture."
Clearly, the constitution was an answer to the Recreational Supervisor's prayers, for it had as a basic element that coordinating policy which had been so long needed.
The constitution was patterned largely after that of the Future Farmers of America, with such alterations as were necessary to make it intrinsically Greek. In addition, Pays included as much of the Scouting program as could be appropriately incorporated as he himself had been a Boy Scout leader.
In due time, with the able assistance of the lawyer whom the Governor General had assigned to assist him, Pays got the whole organization whipped into shape on paper, and ultimately, as we have said, it was approved by His Royal Highness, the King of the Greeks, and achieved official status.
In order to key the Future Farmers of Greece organization with other projects at which we were already working in rural Macedonia, the Clubs were directed by the leader of the agricultural program in each district. These able men, working with truly selfless devotion, carried on the movement with an admirable zeal.
As originally conceived, there was to be a Future Farmers of Greece Club in each of the eight demonstration areas then existing. During the first year of the movement, four "test" clubs were organized in Aghion Pnevma, Makrynitsa, Adriani, and Makriyalos.
It is a satisfaction to say that the clubs prospered from the first, and showed every indication of living up to the high hopes which had been held out for them. Building on solid foundations, they increased, one by one, until there were some twelve or thirteen active local chapters.
Particularly valuable in binding these local clubs into a cooperative body was the publication, "The Messenger," which was distributed to the members each month. Attractively mimeographed, bound in a neat colored cover, illustrated liberally with photographs taken by Pays on his trips around Macedonia, it made a strong effort to be newsy and folksy, contributed greatly toward maintaining a sparkling esprit de corps.
And the most encouraging feature of the Future Farmers Clubs was the remarkable local response which they developed. The idea seemed to catch on like wildfire. Soon there was more demand for clubs than we had personnel to direct.
More than that, through the clubs we were able to channel all the hodge-podge recreational activities which previously had not managed to gather a momentum of their own.
Athletic contests were organized, and a much better spirit was apparent in them. The boys began to assume responsibility for the local playgrounds and libraries. The music clubs which were sponsored by the Future Farmers met with outstanding success.
In order to circumvent the rigid traditions of the patriarchal system, the local leaders of the Future Farmers tackled the problem of arranging individual projects in another fashion. Instead of having the lads manage small projects of their very own, independent of their fathers, we found that progress could be achieved more effectively by having the boys and young men work with their fathers on farm enterprises already under way.
For example, if the father had a field of tobacco under cultivation, the son was encouraged to make a special study of the methods employed, to keep accurate records, and to understand thoroughly every phase of tobacco culture from the planting through the curing to the marketing of the crop. And in this way, although the project lacked a little of the drive which would have been gained by letting the boy have a field of his very own, nonetheless he did learn sound farm practice and some of the science back of it, which, in any event, is the purpose of the project method.
In speaking of the purely agricultural activities, we must not forget that one of the main purposes of the Future Farmers of Greece was to provide a suitable avenue whereby this "out-of-school" youth group could be given systematic instruction in agriculture. This instruction was channeled through the village agricultural leaders, who, as mentors of the local clubs, had a ready-made opportunity to teach the members the very techniques we knew they needed to have.
In addition to the purely agricultural activities of the Future Farmers, they were also available, and eager, to help in many other kinds of work. It will be recalled, for instance, how the Megalo Vrysi Future Farmers of Greece helped Koskinides get rid of a particularly offensive and dangerous swamp.
As an example of another kind of activity in which the Future Farmers of Greece engaged, consider the case at Episkopi. The Foundation agriculturalist, who had had considerable experience in his area near Drama before his transfer to the new section, began immediately to organize his village youth into a Future Farmer Club.
As one means of explaining to the conservative fathers the idea of such a radical thing as a boys' club, he organized a father-and-son banquet at which the aims of the movement were carefully explained. The courses at this banquet consisted of bread, cheese, and locoum, a Turkish sweet which is common in the Macedonian villages. But while the culinary aspect was somewhat meager, the spirit of those who joined together was truly fitting the term banquet.
The club of Episkopi was eventually organized. An old stable was found, rented from the owner, and put into shape for a club-room and community library. The rent for the first six months consisted in putting this old tumble-down building into good repair. The broken window panes were replaced, the gaping roof was made watertight, the tumbling walls were built up and the manure and straw were removed from the floor.
I visited this particular clubroom not long after its renovation, and the transformation was truly amazing. The room was simple, but entirely adequate for the needs.
With this primitive little room in order, the recreation supervisor provided the place with about four hundred books written in simple Greek. The volumes dealt with all sorts of educational and travel subjects suitable for the average village mind.
With the reading room complete and ready for use, a movement was set on foot to operate from this center a traveling donkey library covering the other five villages of the area.
With the dues which the young men paid, supplemented by a small subsidy of two hundred drachmas (about two dollars) per month from the recreational supervisor, the club engaged a small boy with a donkey. Twice a month this donkey journeyed forth, carrying on each side of its back a box containing some one hundred and fifty small books and pamphlets. These were carried from village to village, distributed to those who desired them, and then exchanged on the next trip. It would be hard indeed to conceive of a venture more worth while than this.
At Megali Vrysi, the agricultural leader, Mr. Harlamides, prevailed upon the Government Agricultural Office of Kilkis to assign to the Future Farmer Club a plot of eighteen stremmas (four and one-half acres). On this plot the boys planted according to specifications various varieties of wheat which were fertilized according to different formulas. A record was kept of the time devoted by each boy and all proceeds, after the deduction of necessary expenses, were prorated according to the amount of labor contributed. This single project conducted by the Megali Vrysi Future Farmer Club was an important factor in the program of agricultural improvement in this particular community.
Then there was the club at Aghion Pnevma, which repaired a piece of road of about three hundred meters (one thousand feet) which was in bad condition although it was a vital connecting link with the neighboring village of Pappas.
And again there was that industrious club member in Makrynitsa who constructed for the sanitation supervisor a model private latrine which served as a demonstration for the whole village in the campaign to introduce latrines into the homes of those people.
The members of at least three of the clubs were very interested in adding to their own education and enjoyment by learning to play musical instruments. The recreational supervisor found a teacher who was badly in need of work and arranged for this man an itinerary whereby he could visit each chapter one evening a week throughout the winter months. Each boy contributed a small fee of twenty-five drachmas a month for the instruction, and as the training was given in groups, the instructor had a fair income.
The boys were taught to play such instruments as the mandolin, violin, guitar, banjo and flute. These youthful musicians were extremely eager, and their progress was so rapid that after two seasons of practice, the Aghion Pnevma Club, for instance, put on a public concert which won tremendous applause and considerable remuneration.
Another extremely important project was undertaken by the Aghion Pnevma chapter. On a barren hillside back of the village, the boys planted a total of seven thousand five hundred young trees. A bare hill surrounding an old church was almost completely reforested. When this writer last saw the stand of trees, many of them were already ten and fifteen feet high, and the beginnings of a respectable new forest had been started. Another chapter did even better, planting a total of nine thousand trees on a hillside where formerly no vegetation at all had grown.
In passing, it is worth mentioning the ceremony which accompanied these tree-plantings. The village priest in simple, Orthodox ritual blessed the willowy saplings before the lads put them into the ground, while the villagers looked approvingly on. To those of us with a historic sense, it was somehow highly symbolic. It was as if Greece, after centuries of poverty and neglect, was, by this very act, somehow beginning to slough off the lethargy and the bondage of the ages. It was as if we were witnessing at that very spot a rebirth of the glory that was Greece.
And those of us connected with the Future Farmers of Greece felt somewhat the same way about that worthy organization. For it turned out to be more than a coordinating policy which strung together the activities of the recreational part of our reconstruction program. It was a practical demonstration of something which had a right to live on its own account. It answered a need, and it filled a gap. It was impossible to measure its accomplishments on the spot, but we knew full well that it was contributing greatly to the better living of the Macedonian peasant. It too was feeding the bright flame which was the hope of the future.
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