Realising that people who have fled their homes need more than just food and shelter, a pair of volunteers decided to requisition a minivan and turn it into something that would help enrich lives

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 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.

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