Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece

by Echo for Refugees
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Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece
Get a mobile library to refugee camps in Greece

Hello globalgivers,

Here is Giulio, one of the coordinators at ECHO and I want to tell you a story.

Since I took over from our amazing Keira in May, our work has been, essentially, rocking up to a handful of ‘refugee camps’ around Athens with our library van. The van, that we kitted out ourselves, has wooden shelves, drawers, stools and corner sofa, and around 1,000 books in 12 different languages. We have Harry Potter in Farsi, and Zorba the Greek in Arabic, children's books in Sorani and Kurmanji (the two main Kurdish languages) and the Lord of the Rings in Turkish, together with hundreds of books from Afghan, Iranian, Syrian, Lebanese, Pakistani authors… We open the backdoors of our van and set up our outside space: tables, rags, chairs and bench, a rack with printouts of language learning resources, and all the materials needed for our activities with children, teenagers and adults. Quick tidy up of the van, turn the string-lights on if it’s dark, and our library is open. A bit like the TARDIS, it’s bigger from the inside than from the outside, transforming a white metal box into a temporary community space, where people can sit, check out our collection, read some pages, loan and return books, escape from a dire reality, but also have a chat, bring tea and biscuits, discuss the weather, the latest rejection to their asylum application, or the books they wish to read; speak their native language or try to learn Greek, English or German. Our role, as much as we can, has been to facilitate the use of this space, making sure that it is welcoming and safe for everyone, that the van is roadworthy, with enough fuel and with people inside with the right skills. Books are essential, but so are the volunteer librarians, the backbone of our library.

Ideally our library wouldn’t need to exist, or at the very least we would meet our readers in much more positive environments. ‘Refugee camps’, whatever the living conditions, remain in Europe the major obstacle to inclusion, being the incarnation of a separate society, with different rights, different rules and less freedom. 

Now, if possible (and yes, it is possible), things have worsened considerably. It doesn't exactly come as a surprise: over the past two years, the work of our library has become increasingly difficult. On the back of the pandemic, refugee camps in Greece have become even more secluded than they were before. A new process of registering NGOs and groups working with people on the move with the Migration and Asylum Ministry has been implemented, for the security of everyone involved – we’re assured.

At the same time, new “modern” camps have been discussed, planned, built and now, 'finally', open. Modern, in this case, has a very peculiar meaning: 8ft high concrete walls have replaced metal fences; biometric turnstiles let people in and out after checking fingerprints (very modern, isn’t it?), remotely directed cameras look over the camps population, with alarms that go off when too many people gather together. But also, camps are now the only place where you can apply for asylum, and (almost) the only place you can register for financial support (which has been interrupted altogether for the past 3 months).

The registration of NGOs, or the actual lack of it, made sure that fewer and fewer groups are allowed to get in touch with people stuck in these camps. Already over the last 18 months, we had lost access to some of the camps where our readers live. We still visited them, finding alternative and creative solutions.

The point that 'our service is unnecessary' is disproved by the constantly high number of books loaned and returned, the requests for new books and materials, the participation in our sessions.

2022 started quite sadly, with an increased presence of security guards at the gates of the camps, with a further limitation to the freedom of movement of the residents. And with an increasing number of camp's authorities refusing us access to the camp's premises..

Our van doesn’t stay still, it continuously goes around, adapts and finds solutions, parking lots, back doors, community spaces, trying to maintain the bridge we built with our community of readers across Attica. 

Thanks for all the support we received throughout 2021

Keep supporting us through this new year!

 

In 2021, our library held 194 sessions

- 1814 books were loaned

- 1281 books were returned

- more than 2300 language resources were distributed

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Learning through play at Lavrio
Learning through play at Lavrio

Hello global givers,

We hadn't been this busy as in the past three months for a long time, and we are very happy about it.

Not only we restarted all our library sessions all over Attica, but we received and collected hundreds of new books in Farsi, Dari, Arabic, Turkish, French, German and English, so many that we are still cataloguing them. Moreover, we started a beautiful collaboration with our friends at Pili Pala (check them out on Instagram) to run colorful art-based children sessions in Korinthos camp.

After a few quiet weeks after the Greek 6-month-long lockdown, our sessions in camps are busy as before with adult and teenage readers. 

Our readers had to fight with the blistering heat of this Greek summer and the wildfires of the past month. Malakasa camp was evacuated for a few days in early august, due to a wildfire approaching the camp. No one was hurt, and the "homes" of 3,000 people were luckily left untouched by the fire.

We took a short break in August, but September has been a month full of potential new opportunity. We are working to start new sessions in Elefsina, which is now a safe-zone for unaccompanied teenager waiting for family reunification in different European countries, and we will soon start collaborating with the residents of the largest camp in mainland Greece, Ritsona. And we also have a new website (check the link below)

 

Camps remain the biggest challenge to inclusion. So far in 2021, under the brand of 'modernisation', camps closer to Athens have been closed (or will be by the end of the year), while those more isolated grow bigger and more controlled, in the form of "close and controlled" camps, the first of which just opened on Samos.

Mosier Renè, our new library van, runs an average of 450 km per week in order to reach our readers in these camps and offer them narrative, poetry, comics, non-fiction, textbooks and language resources in their native languages.

 

Please keep supporting us!

 

SOME NUMBERS FOR THE PAST MONTHS:

91 Sessions Run

1012 Books Loaned

701 Books Returned

1310+ Language Resources Distributed

 

AND SOME PHOTOS:

  

Art-based children session with PiliPala @Korintos
Art-based children session with PiliPala @Korintos
Busy library w/ Clowns Without Borders in Oinofyta
Busy library w/ Clowns Without Borders in Oinofyta
Thinking of Afghanistan in Korinthos
Thinking of Afghanistan in Korinthos
Chats and books and Oinofyta
Chats and books and Oinofyta

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Hello global givers,

 

Lots have changed since we last wrote to you. As for me, this is actually the first time I am writing to you and first of all I want to thank you for all your support so far.

Let's start from the end. After a 6-month lockdown, we are finally back on the road! On May 17, we restarted our library sessions in Attica's refugee camps. Now we have an almost full timetable with 7 sessions per week: as far West as Corinthos, as far North as Oinofyta, as far South as Lavrio.

The library has never been completely still though. Over the past months, we adapted to the situation in many different ways. We supported our comrades at Khora Social Kitchen, turning our library van into a delivery van for food packets and meals; we went for market runs and participated in the no-food-waste initiative promoted by Μπορουμε (We can) at Athens' local farmers markets. Since February, we also started running one library session per week during meals distribution at Khora Social Kitchen. 

Renè, our shiny new library van from France, has taken over from the experienced Gary, who is now getting ready for retirement. Throughout the end of winter and the beginning of spring, we finished building the new van interiors, built new furniture and finally filled the shelves of Renè with as many books as possible ---> The Great Book Swap of 2021

Also the Team at the ECHO Library has changed. After 3 years, our lovely project coordinator Keira has left ECHO, for new and exciting adventures. She will be sorely missed, and we wish her the best of luck with what comes next. To replace a great woman we decided to expand the team, and now we have two new project co-coordinators: Azim and me, Giulio.

 

A FEW WORDS ON THE GENERAL SITUATION:

Following the Greek and European policies of the past 2 years, access at camps for our library sessions is limited. 'Lockdown' has a very different meaning for people forced to live in undignified conditions, behind walls, fences and razor-wire. Combative as usual, we will keep fighting for accessing camps and providing the best service for our readers and users. Camps are the biggest barrier to any form of integration and – simply – should not exist.

 

AND SOME NUMBERS FOR 2021 so far:

Sessions held: 24

Books loaned: 335

Books returned: 193

Language resources distributed:825+

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Working on our English learning resources
Working on our English learning resources

It’s been a few months since we wrote to you last. Last time we told you about how we adapted to run socially-distanced library sessions through the autumn. Unfortunately since then Greece has had to go back into lockdown. During this time our library has been doing what a lot of us have been doing - hibernating so that we can emerge from this winter stronger, by converting our new library van and planning for the year ahead.

 

Building the new library van

Our brilliant friend Kostas designed us a new interior that allows us to fit three times as many books. When we converted our first van, we’d never been in a mobile library before. After four years on the road we’ve now got some experience. With the brains of Aliki - who’s been a librarian for over fifty years - and Kostas - a trained carpenter - we dreamt up a design that fits three times as many books as before, and creates a friendly community space. Next came the building - with only two of us able to work at once - took a long time! 

First we insulated, then put in the cork ceiling over the top. We then built the L-shaped bench round by the drivers cab and two book boxes for the kids’ books. Next came the beautiful tilted shelves that will stop the books falling out as we travel round winding Greek roads! Finally, it’s time to varnish. We can’t wait to show it to you when we’re done. Huge thanks to Kostas, Aliki, Kareem, Ayman, Hannah-Lily, Jono, Becca and Samer for your hard work.

 

Planning for the future 

We’ve also been thinking about what our library does best, and brainstorming our plans for the future. We’ve received donations of over 200 beautiful Arabic and Farsi books to line our shelves when we’re able to open back up soon, and written our big targets for the year ahead. These are:

  1. To create an online version of our library
  2. To make sure everyone living in the camps can still access our library in spite of increasing restrictions placed on residents of the camps
  3. To build our connection with the movement for refugee and migrant rights 

We can’t wait to open our doors to readers again very soon. In the meantime we are hibernating and giving the library some TLC so it’s even better when the moment comes. 

Lots of love and solidarity from the library.

New books from the Prize for Arabic Fiction!
New books from the Prize for Arabic Fiction!
Kostas and Becca fit the skylight to the new van
Kostas and Becca fit the skylight to the new van
The first tilted shelf is built
The first tilted shelf is built

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a new library user, a new farsi book!
a new library user, a new farsi book!

In times of uncertainty, when even socialising now carries with it issues of protection and social responsibility, it is projects like ECHO mobile library that shows the importance of connection in our communities. When Greece came out of lockdown, we started our sessions as quickly as we could. Then in August, after taking a two week summer break, the reaction when we returned to our weekly sessions was one of pleasure and relief, with one library user saying that they'd been afraid that we had stopped forever, with others jokingly telling us never to take a holiday again!

Whilst acknowledging how much the library as a service is valued by our friends we have taken extensive measures to ensure that we do not contribute to the spread of Covid 19 amongst vulnerable populations. We have also had to re-think how we run our children's sessions and this week the kids' team distributed more than 300 educational activity packs for our younger library users to use at home. The situation in the camps remains very poor, with the threat of Covid adding to an already fraught situation. Yet, amongst all of this we are happy to say that the library continues to be used to improve people's present and support their future.

Last month alone, despite working at only half capacity (several of the camps that we usually visit are currently on full lock-down) we loaned almost 200 books, distributed 160 learning resources and managed to fulfill many requests for our library users, from drawing guides to poetry, from sewing instructions to basic maths. 

The ability to confidently and independently communicate is one of the most empowering tools for our library users. In one of the camps Mahmoud* a regular user, requested from us a means of learning French from Somali. He wanted to be able to better communicate with his fellow French-speaking neighbours and room-mates. After reaching out to our network and a lot of searching, we found an excellent printable online resource which he is now using on a daily basis. And it's not only French: Mahmoud's neighbour is using our resources to teach his wife English, several of our new German resources are already on loan, whilst hundreds of others have taken our materials for basic communication in Greek and English these past two months. 

It means a lot to us that in these difficult times that friends, family and strangers have continued to reach out and support the library's essential work in offering education, community, hope and opportunity to those who need it. On behalf of our library users and volunteers, thank you.

 

*name changed for confidentiality

our team and a library user
our team and a library user
ECHO library team
ECHO library team
a budding young library artist
a budding young library artist
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Organization Information

Echo for Refugees

Location: Athens - Greece
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @refugeelibrary
Project Leader:
Giulio D'errico
Athens, Greece
$11,070 raised of $20,000 goal
 
285 donations
$8,930 to go
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