In Five Images: The Relief Effort

The biggest curatorial challenge is deciding what to show people. Every image tells a story, but it’s impossible to give each image the same level of visibility. The “In Five Images” series offers a quick look at some of the things that you might have missed.


Near East Relief was founded to save the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Tens of thousands of these survivors were young children. They lived on scavenged food scraps and dressed in whatever rags they could find. It was an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Missionaries and Near East Relief workers set out to gather the children into orphanages. This photograph of two young survivors is probably from Syria, circa 1922.


The men and women who signed on with Near East Relief were both generous and tenacious. Many relief workers were trapped in besieged towns with few supplies. Others organized emergency evacuations of hundreds of children and adult refugees at a moment’s notice. This photograph from Kazachi Post shows two unnamed female relief workers. Unfortunately, very few of our photos have information written on the back. Do you recognize them?


Many of the first Near East Relief volunteers were doctors and nurses. Medical care and disease prevention were important parts of the relief effort. Near East Relief ran many hospitals and small clinics to care for orphans and refugees. There were even a few mobile health wagons that traveled into the surrounding communities. In this photograph, a doctor consults with his patients in a courtyard in the Caucasus.


After a lifetime of adversity, the children struggled to learn to be children. Laughing and playing did not come to them automatically. Older and younger children often formed their own small groups to mimic families. In addition to studying school subjects and learning trades, part of each day was devoted to playtime. In this photograph, a group of kindergartners enjoy a circle dance with their teacher on a sunny afternoon.


The children in Near East Relief’s care didn’t just survive — they flourished. Near East Relief raised 132,000 orphans in the orphanage system. Relief workers provided food and clothing to thousands of additional children in refugee communities. The children of Near East Relief went on to found a thriving diaspora. This photograph is from an unknown Near East Relief summer camp in the 1920s.