ECHO Mobile Library is a multilingual lending library that operates from the back of an adapted Ford Transit van. The library was founded in northern Greece in 2016 and is today run by three coordinators with a team of part-time volunteers. ECHO is a registered UK charity (no.117818) under the name ECHO for Refugees. Here you can read about what we stand for and how that informs how we work.
ECHO makes major decisions collectively via consensus. The library is made up of coordinators, volunteers and trustees. We have monthly team meetings which are informed via smaller working-groups that are focused on different aspects of the library, such as children, fundraising etc.
Azim, Giulio and Becka. The coordinators work four days per week to keep the library going. Together they hold a combination of skills, from languages to accounting and book acquisition. They each receive a monthly stipend in order to support their work with the library.
Currently around 15 solidarians give their time to make the library run. The exact number varies month on month. Some of ECHO’s librarians live in the camps that the library runs in, others in Athens, and a few come for a few months from further afield to volunteer with us full time. If you are interested in volunteering with ECHO, visit our Support page.
Our trustees are Laura Naude, Esther ten Zijthoff and Simon Cloudesley. Laura and Esther are two of the co-founders of the library. Simon is a librarian working in Oxford’s Bodelian library. Together they provide oversight and words of encouragement via monthly online meetings.
What We Stand For
Through our library we see both intense human suffering and the hope of a different world. As a collective we work together to achieve change through the library and with our wider community. Our goals are:
Libraries For All
The library is a shared, accessible common space where people from different places can come together without fear of discrimination. We have books in appropriate languages, with librarians able to communicate within cultural and linguistic differences. We advocate for full access to educational and recreational activities as well as communal spaces which allow people to engage with their own and others’ cultures through reading and self-study.
We recognise that together as migrants, refugees, workers, and displaced people we are comrades; and that attacks against refugees and migrants are attacks against all of us. Therefore we work together in solidarity in a shared struggle for a better world for us all – and we cooperate with our comrades locally and internationally, because we know that we are stronger together.
Homes For All
We recognise that camps isolate people in dangerous conditions without the possibility of integration or community building, or even to meet basic needs. We recognise that there are enough vacant houses and misused resources around to house us all. We fight for the evacuation of the refugee camps, and for safe homes within stable communities for everyone.
We stand against the system of global apartheid which permits resources and labour to be extracted from the poorer regions of the world for use in the richer regions; a system enforced through borders that prevent people from moving. We recognise that we have more in common with ordinary people across the world than we do with those who own the resources and use our labour to make profit. We fight to share resources democratically among us and to allow people to move to where they need or want to be.
People Not Profit
We recognise that capitalism is the economic system on which global apartheid is built and that it’s putting the conditions for life on our planet in jeopardy. We fight for an economic system in which resources are used within planetary limits.
Fascism is a far-right nationalist movement that champions the nation and white supremacy and attacks people like migrants, roma people, jewish people, LGBTQIA+ people and their political opponents in the workers’ movement using paramilitary violence. We recognise that they are trying to threaten our lives. We refuse to engage with fascists or treat their ideas with respect. We fight them through our protest and our words, locally and internationally.
ECHO was begun by four individuals who spent time volunteering in EKO, an informal refugee camp built upon a petrol station 20kms south of the Greece-FYROM border, in the spring of 2016. It did not take long for us to be completely taken by the warm hospitality and perseverance of the roughly 2000 residents of the camp.
Beyond the incredible stories, the boisterous children, and the defiant smiles we encountered, there were two things about EKO which struck us above all else: the hunger for knowledge, and the infectious spirit of community.
Despite a need for the most basic things – water, food, shelter, clothing – we witnessed a far stronger desire to learn, and to put time and skills to use. In the face of seemingly endless struggle and daunting uncertainty, we saw how the spirit of community conquered suffering with dance circles, shared meals, and the common hope of completing their journey to a new, safe, life. Inspired by this, we established ECHO.
The number of undocumented migrants, families, individuals escaping war, famine, deadly and corrupt regimes fleeing to Europe is continuously rising. Not all will have the opportunity to leave Greece and be relocated to Europe – most are waiting in limbo, hoping for their status to be recognised and for any opportunity on which to build a future.
These are individuals hungry for action, for work, for education – many are former students, skilled workers, and professionals whose lives have been violently uprooted.
We hope to provide them with the know-how they need to carry their experience and knowledge into the next stage of their journeys.
Their lives are at a standstill; they need not be.
The mobile library
It all began with a sketch, drawn on an envelope form our static library in the EKO camp. We thought that if we could get the library into a van, then we could bring the service to so many more people who needed it.