Miss Effie M. Chambers’ report about Kessab, not necessarily only about its schools, may be one of the earliest reports about Kessab by a missionary. It was published in “Life and Light for Women” Journal in volume 37, pages 190-192, dated 1907. The journal was published by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), which was among the first American Christian missionary organizations and arguably was the largest and most important of American missionary organizations. The editors note on page 175 that: ““Miss Chambers is this year in Kessab, where she is building up the girls’ school and working among the women. She has no associate at this place, and especially needs the divine companionship”. The report that Miss Chambers wrote in that journal is reproduced here for archiving. Vahe H. Apelian
The Schools of Kessab
By Miss Effie M. Chambers
Kessab, October 20, 1906
“I will begin this letter while waiting for my teachers to come for a teachers’ meeting, our first one, and write until they come. As my mind is on school more than anything else this afternoon I will write about that. I think you know in a new place one has to choose.
First, the opportunities here for schools to be built up seem unlimited and the desire of the people is great, and they seem as far as they know willing to help in all ways they can, but they are still like most places in Turkey, poor, and while there is not actual starving, it is all most of them can do to live. The women and girls her are more backward than nay other place I know in our field They are perfect drudgers, carrying immense loads of wood, heavy jars of water, or baskets of vineyard or garden products on their backs for long distances. The hardest work done in the hardest possible way seems to fit the situation perfectly.
Here in Kessab we have, including our own girls’ school, six school in all, four entirely supported by the people, one by us, and in one other, our new high school preparatory, we share with them. In all there are about 250 pupils. We start them in the primary, and if they graduate they are ready for Aintab College preparatory, or if girls, for the third class in Aintab Seminary. They are village children, and have grown up with a wild, free life, so they do not submit easily to authority, but hey have good minds and seem to me worth training. The schools here have not been well graded heretofore; in fact, they have been divided more on the basis of numbers than according to grade. This year, beginning with the primary, we are trying to adopt a uniform course of study, so much work done each year until they finish the high school.
The short length of the school year (we have only eight and a half months, and for the first part of the term is generally interrupted by gathering in the vineyard product for making molasses, which is a sort of general good time for everybody). Make it difficult.
In all the schools except the girls’ high school, each child was allowed to be excused two days, the only condition being that they should come to me and ask to be excused Those who went without excuse were punished, and made to recite the lesson they had missed. All say it is good, a great improvement on other years, when they went without permission and stayed as long they wished. It is something to have them obey.
Our girls’ high school is going through a needed course of repairs, given us an enlarge schoolroom and two recitation rooms. We also have some good windows (glass ones), which give us plenty of light, and lots of good blackboards, but we still are sitting on mats on the floor, and have almost no apparatus except a few maps. Our needs are many, but we shall try to be patient. The girls and I are thinking of raising silkworms, and applying the profits towards some seats. If they do this I shall try to find someone to help us with the rest, for I feel I must get them up off the floor.
The people want a good deal of manual training in the schools, and the children need it. In all schools we are trying to introduce gymnastics and singing lessons. The church made our girls’ school a present of nice Singer sewing machine last year, and this year our first class girls are to take lessons in dressmaking, i.e., learning to cut and fit simple dresses.
Their dresses are funny, old-fashioned things, infant waists, long, full skirts, no collars, plain, ill-fitting sleeves. Over this dress they wear a short, round jacked, trimmed on all the seams with a kind of braid of different color from the goods. Around their waists they wear shawls or pieces of cloth folded diagonally, on the wide part being at the back, and knotted tight front. When not entirely bare-footed, they wear a kind of red slipper with pointed toes and without heels, but no stockings. A gaily-flowered handkerchief covers the head and our Kessab girl or women stands before you, for there is almost no difference in the dress of girls and women. There being no Moslems here, the women do not veil as they do in other places, but are perfectly free in many ways, where their sisters in other cities are bound to custom. The people here, as a whole, seem to cling less tenaciously to custom than in other cites and are thus in many a way more open to receive good – and bad, too, I am afraid. I don’t know of nay place where work is needed more. Pray for us that we shall do all we can and be all we can here.
There being no regular post, one is likely to be caught, as I am now, only held ready when a chance to send arrives. I resolve every week to get certain letters ready and have them ready to send as soon as chance offers, but some resolves are vain, and in the midst of looking after school here and outside, training teachers, superintending primary Sunday school and looking after its teachers, playing for teachers’ meetings and educational club meeting, teaching Sunday school lessons to a class of twenty-five young women and girls, leading women’s meeting where the attendance is from one hundred and fifty to two hundred (women hungry for the truth), cleaning house, getting winter supplies, overseeing workmen who are loth to be told what to do by a woman, training new cook and washerwoman being my own scrub and ironing woman, besides looking after my family of seven – about whom I hope to write you sometimes letters don’t get written, I am sure God want me here this year, for he had let me succeed in everything I have undertaken for these people yet. The boarding department is open with three borders, one from Antioch, Vieda, and hope for another.”