Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Farm Schools in Greece






It was in the winter / early spring of 1960-1961 that I was invited to travel with the photographer who was a long-time friend of the ASCSA. He had contracted to photograph the work of both the Greek farm schools / homes for war orphans and children too poor to be allowed to go to schhol by their families, founded by the Basiliki Pronoia (literally, Royal Providence) after the wars and the American Farm School, which I'd never heard of, near Thessaloniki. It proved to be a problem-free trip; I went to the institutions with him that he was documenting and was free to make friends with the children and adolescents. I saw nothing that was not admirable in any of them, though no one was trying to impress me. I never could have seen the Pronoia schools or the American Farm School the same way under any other conditions, and I never have forgotten them. As an American I felt free to take a few simple and unofficial photographs at the American Farm School. They all sent the older children who were ready for gymnasium curricula on to the nearest city using the public bus service (KTEL); the American Farm School, of course, had the advantage of sending them to Thessaloniki. I asked no questions, having no desire to look like a journalist or to be one, and I was keenly aware of the privilege of seeing this side of Greek social service and education. The children were simply happy and friendly, if you allowed yourself to remember that at this time most of them were war orphans. I did not realize until today the likelihood that the American Farm School was the inspiration for the Greek one. I wondered, was this a project of the Marshall Plan? What was its intention, apart from contributing to good agriculture and good education in Northern Greece? So I Googled, of course. There are the usual encyclopaedia articles based on its own brochures and concentrating on its current profile: yes, it still exists, and it existed long before WW II. I did not find an article of exactly the time of my visit, but a Time article in June of 1935 gave me everything I needed to know. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,883458,00.html
The American Farm School was a private foundation and dated from 1904. It has been continuous. It has adapted itself to various needs of war and peace in rural northern Greece, though never deviating from the improvement of agriculture. Of course, there must have been some glitches, but I take it otherwise at its word. It now also has a Summer session for Americans to experience rural farming in Macedonia while contributing to its purposes. But for starting this blog describing the externals of my life, as I have known it, I never would have looked up this information. I don't know whether it looks different today.
So, having four negatives, I scanned them, and here they are, all at the top of this post. I'm sure there must be girls now, though I don't know, and certainly the clothes are different.
Furthermore, I began my love affair with Greece's second city at this time, since I stayed behind alone and after a few days took the public bus back to Athens.