• January 1919

    The Youngest Survivors

    As World War I drew to a close, Near East Relief turned its attention to the thousands of refugee children scattered across the Anatolian Peninsula. Through careful budgeting, Near East Relief determined that it could feed each child for $0.17 per day. The organization set out to raise an unprecedented $30 million for direct relief.

  • February 1921

    Near East Relief Orphanages

    By February 1921, Near East Relief was operating dozens of orphanages in Ottoman Turkey, Syria (parts of which are now Lebanon), Palestine, and the Caucasus region.

  • By early 1922, 100,000 children were living in Near East Relief orphanages. An additional 100,000 children living in refugee centers received partial support from the orphanages.

  • Arrival

    Children arrived at the orphanages in different ways. Near East Relief workers searched for homeless children on the streets and brought them to the orphanages. Some children had been traveling for their entire lives and had no memories of their families, or even of their own names. Some adult deportees left their children by the roadside in hope that the children would be rescued. Many children waited at orphanage gates until there was space for them inside.

  • The Burning of Smyrna

    After the Great Fire of Smyrna, Near East Relief workers evacuated approximately 15,000 children from orphanages in the  to Greece. Thousands more traveled on foot to safety in Syria, Palestine, and the Caucasus. The disaster worsened the already dire refugee situation by displacing approximately 200,000 people.

  • Slideshow: Sheltering Children

    Near East Relief scrambled to find buildings large enough to adequately house all of the orphans. In the wake of World War I, Near East Relief was able to find everything from former palaces (including the Birds’ Nest Orphanage, above) to inactive Russian army bases. Orphanages were densely packed – the complex at Alexandropol alone housed more than 20,000 children at its peak.


  • Slideshow: Restoring Health

    By 1922 Near East Relief operated 26 hospitals and 48 clinics to care for refugees. Most children arrived at orphanages suffering from severe malnutrition. They also carried the threat of contagious disease. Doctors and nurses worked tirelessly to examine and treat the orphans, helping to the children to reach a state of health that they had never known in their short lives.

  • Nourishment

    After suffering malnutrition, the children welcomed the simple meals that they ate together – often prepared with ingredients that they grew themselves. Near East Relief orphanages strove to be self-supporting. This included producing as much food as possible to feed thousands of growing children. The focus was on the maximum number of calories at minimal cost per meal. The average cost was $0.05 per child per meal. Donations of food from America supplemented the orphanage meals.

  • “Rarely have I seen pupils more eager to learn. Although their diet is very simple they looked well nourished, were quickly responsive, and nearly always cheerful. The staff . . . impressed me as deeply in earnest and thoroughly interested in the work they were doing.”

    — Dr. R.R. Reeder, an American child welfare specialist, after a tour of Near East Relief orphanages

  • Slideshow: Learning a Trade

    Near East Relief trained orphans so that they would be able to earn a living after graduation at age 16. The orphanage schools offered classes in more than 40 trades. Training programs were based on local needs and resources. Children usually began working half-days at age 12. Older teens worked full days and took classes at night.

  • Growth Through Play

    Children living in Near East Relief orphanages were encouraged to play and socialize. Physical activity played a vital role in recovery. Toys were scarce, so children played hopscotch or jacks with small stones. Girls made their own dolls out of sticks and scraps of fabric. Boys made trains and trucks from tin cans.

  • Graduating from the Orphanages

    Orphanage graduates joined the Near East League, an alumni group that helped the young adults to socialize and to find work. Graduates often married one another. A thriving Diaspora grew wherever these young survivors settled — the cities of Beirut and Cairo, the farmlands of Macedonia and France, and even the distant United States.

  • By the mid-1920s the leaders of Near East Relief recognized the need for long-term development programs, as opposed to emergency relief efforts. Once again, important changes were in store for Near East Relief.

    continue with The Legacy of Near East Relief