ECHO was begun by four individuals who spent time volunteering in EKO, an informal refugee camp built upon a petrol station 20 kms 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 perseverence 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.
Our aim is simple: to go where we must, and do what we can, to create spaces for learning and community within refugee camps. Our name, as well as alluding to the place where it all began - EKO camp - speaks to those things we are determined to nurture:
Education. Community. Hope. Opportunity.
We hope to transform the sites in which we work from places of stagnancy and waiting, to places where dreams and drive remain alive. Much like the way an echo carries, the voices of those on the journey to safety can and must be heard miles from where they began, and further still.
Our work began in August 2016 with our flagship project: setting up a library in Vasilika Camp, Northern Greece. In October 2016 we began our mobile library project which currently services refugee camps in the Athens area.
Photo courtesy of Keoma Zec