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A relative Freedom: Relief Work and extra-Curricular Activities


Faculty of the Syrian Protestant College, 1914: Professor Reed, Professor of Social Science, 2nd row 3rd r-l, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

The  SPC had played a leading educational role in the region, since its founding in 1866. With the onset of the War, it now found itself confronted with the need and ability to play a new social role, extending help wherever needed.  However, it was also bound to preserve, at least the letter, if not the spirit, of the US Government's neutrality in the war at this early stage.  Faced with this dilemma, the College opted to extend a helping hand through its faculty, staff and students, without an official sponsorship: relief efforts by SPC members were conducted through proxy organizations, such as the Red Cross and the YMCA. Several SPC members took the lead on these efforts: SPC Faculty and the SPC community (Mrs. Dorman, Mrs. Nelson, and Mr. Bayard Dodge) joined the Executive Committee of the Red Cross Relief efforts, and cooperated with other American Nationals placed in the region (e.g. William Stanley Hollis, American Consul General;  Vice-President of the Red Cross Professor James Patch; Secretaries, Miss Anna Jessup and Miss Margaret McGilvary; Mr. Charles Dana Treasurer,) to lead relief efforts on many fronts.

Annex used for Relief Work for local citizens.jpg

SPC Annex, usually a student dormitory, now center of the Beirut Red Cross Relief Committee, Sarafian Brothers, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

The Facilities of the SPC Annex on Bliss Street, which were normally occupied by students, were now dedicated to the relief work of the Beirut Red Cross Committee. Under the supervision of Professors Reed and Patch of SPC, and in cooperation with the Beirut Municipality, a Red Cross Employment Committee was established to provide work for people in need. The idea was to provide charity employment, in exchange of cash, for "worthy poor", who had to apply to the various programs, and to meet a set of requirements (character, lifestyle, and actual need) that qualified them for charitable interventions. Applicants for work reported at the Annex, and their applications were carefully investigated there to ensure accountability of those receiving aid; work of the various soup kitchens was synchronized and planned in these premises, too. As screening and establishing eligibility proved extremely cumbersome and challenging; since meaningful and useful work was hard to come by (most tasks were limited to cleaning the streets), and as cash was extremely short, this model of charity was eventually discontinued (in spite of its initial help and support to many) in favor of  a different model of charity and relief work. Over time, Soup Kitchens were supported by and extended into medical centers, women and children's shelters, where those receiving food, and medical assistance, rather than monetary aid, were later employed and helped to take care of the needy.