The Little Mobile Library in the Heart of Refugee Camps

A group of immigrants who have made through police blockades rest at the Gevgelija railway station

One of our particular interests at TechSoup is the refugee crisis. This year we launched an online technology informational resource for NGOs and libraries that serve refugees called Refugee Response. Hoping that you share our interest, we thought you might like to know about the volunteer library-on-wheels humanitarian project in Greece called Education. Community. Hope. Opportunity. (ECHO). People in need eventually need more than food, water, and shelter.

The Largest Humanitarian Emergency in History?

The refugee crisis is now the largest and longest humanitarian emergency since World War II, and quite possibly in all of history. More than 60 million people have been displaced to date from their homes, mostly as a result of the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. During the past two years, 1.3 million people fleeing conflict and persecution have traveled through Greece in search of safety, and 62,000 remain there in refugee camps. Refugees stay in camps for months, and more probably for years — on average for 17 years — awaiting resettlement or asylum. There is not much to do in refugee camps. There is little opportunity to work, sporadic schooling, and, well, nothing much else.

Library on wheels

ECHO Mobile Library to the Rescue

ECHO is a new Greek NGO that was founded by four individuals who spent time volunteering in EKO Camp, an informal refugee camp situated at a gas station in northern Greece. They quickly discovered that people there really needed spaces for learning and community. About a year ago, they built a simple library in the Vasilika camp in northern Greece. A few months later, they began their mobile library project, which serves refugee camps in the Athens area. They built the library on wheels in an old minibus and collected 1,300 donated books and got to work. They were recently able to add Internet connectivity to the minibus. ECHO is all volunteer, so nobody gets paid to do this work.

What Refugees Need from a Mobile Library

The ECHO volunteers now assist asylum-seekers with gaining qualifications, learning languages, applying for jobs, or just getting lost in a good book. More specifically, their mobile library offers

  • Access to online university courses with certification through platforms like Coursera
  • Access to language learning resources, both print and digital
  • Advice on CVs, cover letters, and university and job applications
  • Books in Arabic, Farsi, and English so far
  • A pop-up social space with tea, coffee, and board games

Visitors either sit inside the bus or on benches outside, weather permitting. When authorities don't allow the library inside the camps, they park the bus outside and get the word out that they're open for business.

Funding

ECHO currently survives solely on donations to keep the library on wheels running. They're collecting donations online on a service called chuffed.org.

For more information on this humanitarian library project, check out the piece on ECHO by The Guardian, where we first found out about it.

Image: Freedom House / Public Domain

Image: liz west / CC BY

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