Answering the Call
IT WAS DECIDED during the summer of 1928 that this twentieth century call to Macedonia should be answered and that I would be the one to undertake the mission. During that brief period, we analyzed the results of my hurried visit to Greece and made necessary plans for the future.
There were several important aspects of the problem to consider. It was proposed that any rural activities undertaken in Macedonia should be primarily for out-placed orphans. However, with these orphans as a nucleus, it was also contemplated that any sound program in rural reconstruction would eventually expand to include the whole native population as well.
The summer of 1928 was a busy one. I was in New York discussing the results of my visit to Greece and making plans for the future. Conferences relative to this whole question occupied several weeks. In the first place my own relation to any new and continuing project was quite uncertain. My work as educational director for the Caucasus area of Near East Relief had been made possible as the result of a two-year leave of absence granted by Rutgers University, and this period was now at an end. As a matter of fact the personnel needs of Near East Relief were rapidly diminishing. During my brief period of service the orphan enrollment in the schools of the Caucasus area had decreased from ten thousand to less than three thousand. In a comparatively short time this aspect of the recommendations made by the Survey Committee could be carried out and all relief would be at an end. At the same time the possibility of certain types of educational activities opening up under some new and permanent organization was a question which was, as yet, quite unsettled.
But the opportunity to undertake a challenging, even if temporary, piece of work in an unexplored field is always alluring. It happened also that I had been working under a chief who never took "no" for an answer. When the project in Macedonia was first suggested our Executive Secretary, Dr. Barclay Acheson, offered the opportunity to me with the added inducement (if such it might be considered) of an appointment as Director of Education for all areas of the rapidly expiring Near East Relief. I brought up the question of my leave from the University, which terminated at this time, and which I was unwilling to reopen; but, as usual, Dr. Acheson was ready with an answer. He had already, he said, taken up this matter with Rutgers, explained the nature and the importance of the new venture, and had induced the authorities to extend my leave for another year. By the time I had recovered from my first surge of indignation over this autocratic usurpation of my personal prerogatives, the challenge of this new adventure began to have its effect, and, as Dr. Acheson fully expected, I capitulated. Yes, I would take this additional year of leave and help lay the foundations of a possible new enterprise. Acheson knew human nature. One year at a time was quite sufficient for him.
There were other aspects of the problem to consider. It was proposed that any rural activities undertaken in Macedonia should be primarily for out-placed orphans. However, with these orphans as a nucleus, it was also contemplated that a really sound program in rural education would eventually expand to include the whole native population as well.
This latter possibility was actually of primary consideration in case a new educational organization should be formed. Near East Relief felt that it could not morally, even if legally, use funds that had been given for strictly relief purposes to promote a project so fundamentally educational in nature and with the general population as an important beneficiary. But this problem also was solved. A public spirited American citizen of Greek extraction offered $10,000 out of the millions he had made in Macedonian tobacco to cover the cost of such an exploratory project. My assignment was to take this $10,000 and use it as effectively as possible in a program of exploration.
During all of the preliminary discussions of that summer the several studies which previously had been made of the situation were freely drawn upon. These included the general recommendations on rural work presented by the Survey Committee, the special investigations into Greek agriculture made by Dr. O. S. Morgan of Columbia University, and my own observations of June. In the light of all of this information our Board desired to learn what I proposed to do. I did not know, nor did I have any concrete proposals to make. We — all of us — simply knew that Greece in common with other Near Eastern countries presented a serious and interesting problem in rural reconstruction and that Macedonia, with its thousands of new settlers, was obviously the region in which to attempt a solution.
On October 3, 1928, my wife and I found ourselves back in Athens where I was faced with the immediate and difficult task of organizing an exploratory program in rural education in Macedonia. The winter season was rapidly approaching and no time could be lost. Something had to be done.
There are various ways of launching a new venture. One is to work out, before making a move, every aspect of the proposed enterprise including its location, its various features and the methods to be followed; then, when all of this mental and paper planning is finally complete, to inaugurate the well-conceived project on a thorough-going basis. It has been observed, however, that a serious disadvantage to this procedure is that the more one reflects on a new undertaking the more the difficulties begin to appear, and very often the organizer seems never to emerge from this preliminary period of study and reflection.
Another method is to theorize little but to do something — anything — with the idea of formulating more permanent plans as the explorations proceed, then to scrap these early beginnings and to build a solid structure upon the foundations of experience thus laid. This was the line of attack that seemed to be required in this case.
The whole purpose of our program of this winter would be to gain necessary information from actual contact with problems in the field, considering any benefits to the orphans or the native population as merely incidental.
Conferences with leading officials during my visit in June, and observations in the field supplemented by conversations upon my return in October, indicated that one possibility would be to conduct unit courses in agriculture at strategic points over Macedonia. It was suggested by certain officials that the government would be willing to loan, for a period of two or three months, five or six agriculturalists who could be used for such a purpose. This loan in brief, was my first "hunch" and the lead decided upon as the one to be followed.
In reading over old notes covering this period it is interesting to review sections of the first report which was submitted I to the New York office covering the month of October:
"The first task after arriving was to ‘find myself’ in this new setting and then endeavor to get under way. Organizing an entirely new project is similar to constructing the foundations of a building. The foundation is not only necessary but it must be solid and to be solid each stone must be laid in its proper niche. Likewise in a program of organization each step must be made at the proper time and often one move must wait upon the performance of another. For this reason the first few days or weeks are sometimes rather irksome, if not tiresome."
And then again I find in these same notes a list of the job which I set up for myself to be taken care of during the first few weeks. This list is rather illuminating in the light of the ten years that have followed:
1. Set up a simple office and arrange for the necessary working staff.
2. Study the geographical arrangement of Greece as well as the general organization of governmental departments; particularly the departments of agriculture, education and colonization.
3. Hold a conference with all American personnel in the area to familiarize them with the general plan and purpose of the proposed venture.
4. Go to Macedonia and make a more detailed survey of the field than has hitherto been done, including careful studies of several villages in which we might find it possible to work.
5. Following such a survey and with definite facts in hand as to just where we wish to work and exactly what we propose to do, begin conferences with the proper officials for the purpose of thoroughly selling the idea and securing the necessary cooperation.
The question of an office was easy. A desk in one corner of Near East Relief headquarters in Athens was quite sufficient for the time being. For staff the part-time services of the Greek assistant to the former Educational Director was all that I needed. Professor Michaelides was well qualified to help arrange meetings with Greek officials, do the interpreting on such occasions, make translations of Greek articles, and outline for me the administrative and political structure of the Greek government.
One limitation of my staff was that Professor Michaelides could not travel with me in the provinces because of teaching responsibilities at Athens College. However, it was decided that the interpreting needs on such trips could probably be met by various personnel in Macedonian offices of Near East Relief. The question of language always presents a serious difficulty to an American organizing new work in a foreign country. But it is not at all an insurmountable problem, and one gets quite used to talking through an interpreter not only on formal occasions but at social functions as well.
One might logically ask why it was decided that my headquarters should be in Athens when the program under consideration was to be undertaken in Macedonia at points eighteen or twenty hours by train from this city. The answer is simple. In spite of the tremendous added burden of travel which such an arrangement imposed it was by all means important at this stage to reside close to the capital. Only by this means could the authorities be kept informed concerning our every move and the necessary cooperation enlisted as plans developed.
Hurriedly establishing a home in Athens and after making a few brief calls of an official nature, I proceeded at once to the fourth task which I had set for myself. Soon after the middle of the month I was ready for this trip. Accompanied by R. M. Davidson, whose Macedonian staff had assisted me in my observations of June, I again visited Salonica and then went on as before to the eastern part of the province.
In this section considerably over two thousand orphans of the nine thousand placed out in various parts of Macedonia had been settled. It seemed the most logical region in which to attempt a beginning. In the Drama area and in the district of Serres, with Davidson and his Near East Relief staff to help me, I visited nine rural centers on this first scouting trip. In all of these villages we met the leading citizens, talked with groups of ex-orphan boys, visited the schools, conferred with the mayors, and talked with the priests; and to all of these people I outlined the general nature of my hopes for the winter. These hopes centered on that first thought that had come to me of holding winter agricultural courses in various localities of Macedonia. Maps were secured, connecting roads studied, and the nature of the farming in that region noted.
The result of this tour was that my thinking became more crystallized and I was able to arrive at a fairly concrete line of attack. As reported to New York immediately after this trip, my program for the winter was:
1. To conduct unit courses in the rural sections of two districts—Serres
in east-central Macedonia and Drama at the extreme eastern end.
2. To set as our goal for the season a minimum of twelve units of work.
3. To make use of a period of approximately four months — December, January, February, and March — the slack season of the year.
4. To maintain each individual course for a period of about one month.
5. To bring young men, and possibly adults, together three times per week about as follows: two evenings per week of one hour each and Sunday afternoon for two hours.
Thus was our procedure determined. How to secure teachers for such courses was another question, but somehow the breaking down of one problem seems to lead to the solution of another. During this first trip I had discovered that in the various colonization offices scattered over Macedonia there were agriculturalists who were anxious to get away, for brief spells, from the problems of land division and deal occasionally with real farm problems. There were also a few trained men at the experiment stations of Drama and Serres. There was an orphanage agricultural school not far from the latter town. There were occasional rural teachers who had enjoyed one year of post-graduate training in agriculture under a new policy recently inaugurated by the Ministries of Education and of Agriculture.
It was also discovered that it was customary in this country for nearly every ambitious person to supplement his main salary by certain outside activities. There were many such possibilities in the larger cities, but few in the rural sections. The people I had in mind would undoubtedly welcome such an opportunity. The plan was discussed with the authorities in Athens. They agreed. The outright loan of a few men, as first contemplated, appeared to be out of the question, but this new suggestion seemed very practical and was, moreover, entirely in keeping with professional practices of the country. I was, therefore, given the necessary permission to proceed.
Negotiations were now undertaken in earnest with officials in the Ministries of Education, Agriculture, and Public Assistance. I needed to secure general support of the plan. It was necessary to have permission to hold meetings in village schools. The use of government employees on a part-time basis had to be arranged. There was hearty agreement and general support all along the line.
I was in the fortunate position of being able to capitalize on several situations. In the first place Near East Relief had relations of a most friendly sort with all departments of the government. Not only had this organization rendered great assistance to Greece in times of stress, but it had always carried out its work in cooperation with the established Orthodox church and without interfering in any way with local politics. This practice could not be said of every foreign organization working in the country. In the villages, also, one had only to be introduced as a representative of Near East Relief and he was immediately taken in and shown the utmost courtesy and hospitality. It should be understood at the outset that this widespread friendly attitude undoubtedly saved years of painstaking effort in building the new successor organization which later took shape in Greece and throughout the Near East.
Another favorable factor was the attitude of the Venizelos party toward rural problems. It was this party, or its predecessor under the name of "Liberal Party," which had created in 1909 the Ministry of Agriculture in order to give proper attention to the development of the farming industry in Greece. With this party returned to power in 1928 further consideration was being given again to the question of improving conditions for the Greek farmer. An interview given out to the Greek press by the Minister of Agriculture just previous to my arrival emphasized this fact.
This same Minister also had referred to the ineffectiveness of the so-called Middle (or Secondary) Agricultural schools which were supposed to be training farm boys for farming, but which were actually turning out groups of young men theoretically trained in agriculture with only one ambition — to secure a job with the government. He stated that his Ministry would promote a policy, already begun in a small way, of organizing itinerant courses in agriculture for the youth living in villages and actually engaged with their fathers in farming.
The Minister was referring to a new law providing for the establishment of so-called "Sunday schools" in agriculture. Under this decree a few rural teachers already had been given one year, occasionally two, of special training in agriculture at the several agricultural institutions of the country. They then had been returned to their villages with instructions to incorporate activities of a rural nature in their curricula and to hold special classes on Sundays and holidays for the out-of-school youth and the adult farmer. My arrival coincided with this new emphasis.
In September, just prior to my arrival, the Executive Secretary of Near East Relief had made one of his routine visits to Greece. While there he had conferred with the Prime Minister, Mr. Venizelos, in order to discuss the status of Near East Relief and to outline certain possibilities for the future. Regarding the latter Premier Venizelos exhibited great interest in the idea of promoting agricultural education in the villages. He told Dr. Acheson that upon my arrival I would be granted every facility in the organization and the promotion of this new activity. Venizelos was as good as his word. Although I did not have the opportunity of meeting this famous statesman until some time later, he heard of my arrival and sent to me, unsolicited, a special note of introduction which would (and did) open every door in Greece. I still have in my possession this now tattered piece of paper. It was seldom (only once) used to force cooperation from reluctant officials, but it was frequently utilized after pleasant and profitable meetings to indicate to the individuals present that the Prime Minister would appreciate the assistance that had been given.
Other official letters of introduction made it possible to return almost immediately to Macedonia to get the proposed program under way. One of these was a note from the General Director of Agriculture in the Ministry of Athens to Mr. Petropoulos of Salonica, the Director for Macedonia. Mr. Petropoulos listened with interest to an outline of my tentative scheme as far as it had been developed at that time. He made several helpful suggestions. Then he placed in my hands a letter to all of the district inspectors of Macedonia requesting their assistance in whatever plan I might propose.
The Drama area in which I anticipated organizing much of our first work, although situated in the province of Macedonia, was because of its extreme eastern location placed administratively under Komotini, the capital of Thrace. This political division made it necessary to add to the eight hours of travel required to get from Salonica to Drama another train ride of five hours to reach Komotini. However, this difficulty was overcome and the Director for Thrace was interviewed. With his approval, backed up by his note of introduction, I was able to talk to the chief inspector of the Drama district. I was ready to proceed.
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