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Profiles of Greece
Nicholas Econopouly

January 8, 1964

The Kallithea project; except for a few details, is completed. It went very, very well. Once again we were proud of Northport High School, the students, the staff and everyone involved in the venture. What a wonderful thing it would be if there were a thousand "Northports" assuming similar responsibilities and working to make this a better world in which to live.

A professor from Georgetown University, Greece on a Fulbright grant, summed it up for all of us: "What a wonderful spirit! What a wonderful high school it must be!"

First and briefly, a few comments about the trip to Kallithea and the presentation of the books and supplies:

The U.S. Educational Foundation is Greece provided us with an automobile and we left Athens for Kallithea on December 19. We stopped overnight in Sparta and arrived in Kallithea (over that incredible mountain road) on the morning or December 20.

What a day! It's difficult now to separate the events, to recall all the expressions of appreciation, the happy smiles, and the invitations to visit homes. Most memorable, though, and this we will never forget, were the expressions on the children's faces as they were looking at books they never knew existed: encyclopedias, biographies, (Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, John F. Kennedy, the Wright brothers, Samuel F. B. Morse, many others), Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Moby Dick, Gulliver's Travels, adventure stories, history, science, books on practical subjects such as home economics and agriculture, books about Greece, Europe, Africa, Asian, America - what a marvelous world opened up to the children of this tiny and isolated mountain village! They thumbed and grinned, pointed to passages and colorful pictures, chattered. Their eyes were wide with wonder and the expressions which glowed on their faces reflected what a remarkable moment this was for them … and for us. And there were maps of the world and of the continents, notebooks, pencils, and supplies - it's unfortunate only that many others didn't share that experience with us.

There were "official" programs, too: a presentation ceremony in the morning, a kind of assembly and village "town meeting" in the afternoon. They were anti-climatic. Nothing could match the personal, honest and warm reactions of the children.

What did we accomplish?

It is hard to say. The immediate results, of course, are clear and in this respect the project is a remarkable success. The long-range impact, on the other hand, is something that we will have to wait for time to disclose. It could be very, very important.

Kallithea has in recent years been ravaged by war. First the Nazi forces fought Greek guerrillas. When this was finally over, Greek fought Greek in the bitter years of the Communist war. People in Kallithea, as in many other Greek villages, fought, starved and died - even with victory there is still a residue of pain, bitterness and resentment which hinders effective action toward real progress. The typical Kallithean feels more isolated from the world than the 40 or so miles to Sparta; he is suspicious of government and what government offers to do for him; he tends to withdraw into his family unit and into himself because this seems to be the safest place to be. All of this has made effective long-range action, that beyond simply sustaining life, extremely difficult. More that one aid program, public and private, has foundered when up against the reality of the Greek villagers' psychological isolation.

Our book project might have little long-range effect or it could be a fairly significant thing. First of all, the books com from young people - not adults, not government, not a big organization and thy are going to children - and Greeks have an infinite love of children. It is just possible, perhaps only barely possible, that the adults of Kallithea, responding to the overwhelmingly positive reaction of their children, will put new determination and energy into improving their school, buying books. (Such a process may already have beginning in the comment made by one man when saw the books: :How we have the best school in the Peloponnesus!" A great deal would seem to depend on what happens between the children and their books over the next year or so - it would be difficult for the doting Kallithean to ignore the appeal of children for more books - they would soon find a way to get them.

And then there's Kallithea's location. It is situated on a mountain trail which eventually winds itself, after about 80 or so miles, to a point close to the Aegean Sea. All along the trail are other tiny villages. Communication between villages is surprisingly good - the "Pullman" (Land Rover - it goes through twice a week), an old woman on a donkey, men walking to another village in search of work, all of these are in reality part of a pretty effective communication system. You don't simply pass through a village. You are immediately greeted with "Ti nea;" (What news?) - and then you are pumped for information. It really works. When we drove into Sparta on the way to Kallithea with the books, a an walked over to the stationwagon, looked into the back and asked: "Are they books for Kallithea?" And the villages are competitive - enthusiasm about books in Kallithea could lead to a similar disposition in other communities.

All of this might happen. Or nothing might happen. I'm not sure it should concern us very much under any condition. The important thing is that we do things that we think will help - and expect that a certain proportion of them will catch on, become something even more important. In the meantime we have made some 62 kids in a little mountain village, plus their parents, very, very happy. The books will help them - and I'm sure we've generated some attitudes about humanity, even if in a local and limited sense, that are good and fine. To the typical Kallithean, America is marvelous and friendly place.

Finally, people armed with books can accomplish almost anything. And for the first time in their history, Kallitheans are armed with the weapons of peace instead of weapons of war. That in itself is a pretty good result.

Alan Vitters' letter is going to cause a big and happy stir here, I think. A secretary at the Foundation office read about it, got pretty excited and ran down to the offices of The World, a Greek news and feature magazine. They want pictures (I sent them to them), the whole story.

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