While volunteering in refugee camps in Greece, Laura Samira Naude and Esther ten Zijthoff realised that the people they met needed more than food and shelter: they wanted to study, to work for their future and to find a sense of purpose.Naude and Zijthoff launched the project Mobile Library. A true success story.
Naude and Zijthoff were determined to provide a quiet space, amid the upheaval and uncertainty, where people could use their time rather than just fill it. The pair decided to launch Education Community Hope and Opportunity (Echo) and open a library on wheels.
Friends in London and Belgium did the fundraising and fitted out an old minibus with shelves and computer points for internet access, then drove it to Greece. The two then appealed for books in Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi, French, Greek and English, slowly filling the shelves and finally opening in November. They now have about 1,300 books – including some in storage because they don’t fit into the van – and welcome an average of 115 readers a week. So far, they have loaned out 904 books. “We have also lost many books along the way, as they inevitably go missing, and sometimes, especially with language-learning books, we let people keep them and then make copies to keep up with the demand,” says Zijthoff.
Visitors either sit inside the van or on benches outside, although this depends on the weather, says Zijthoff: “In the freezing winter we had in Thessaloniki, the van was sometimes warmer than the tents, and people would come inside just to get warm.” Now, in the summer, the heat is scorching, so readers come for night-time sessions. “The van has often been hijacked as a party bus, but we do try to keep the library sessions peaceful,” she says.
When the authorities don’t allow access to camps, they park the bus outside and let the word spread inside, although they are often shut down without warning. But those who come to the library love it: children say it feels like home; a Syrian economics professor used it to translate his work into English and young Afghans keen to learn English started informal classes. Those leaving the camp have even donated their own books. (full article TheGuardian)