Raquel Luna, Marijanne Andreoupoulus, Patricia Schurmann and Marianne de Mazières run the mobile book service for refugees
Photo: LaLa La Photo
When an American in Luxembourg stumbled across a 2017 article in the British press about a mobile library for refugees in Greece, little did she know the path it would take her and three more volunteers on.
Marijane Andreoupoulus, who originally hails from the US, has been living in Luxembourg for 30 years, but rather than put her feet up during her retirement, she has been a tireless volunteer for the Red Cross, teaching refugees French, and aiding numerous refugee support groups in Luxembourg.
A newspaper article planted a seed inside her head, which over time began to germinate and sprout into a tangible concept. Each month Marijane and her friend and fellow volunteer Marianne de Mazières would visit several refugee centres in Luxembourg and ‘lend’ books to those residing there, a bit like a miniature travelling library. Residents would have their books stamped and could request a book in a language or subject that interested them.
The books were paid for through Marianne’s connections with the Sovereign Order of Malta, a lay religious order of the Catholic church represented in 120 countries.
It wasn’t long before Marijane and Marianne met with the founders and organisers of Bibliotherapy, a non-profit supported by Mateneen and financed by the Œuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte, a Luxembourg charitable foundation.
Patricia Schurmann and Raquel Luna, originally from Mexico, had started the travelling multilingual library around 18 months earlier. Bibliotherapy organises a host of other activities including artistic workshops, debates and practical information sessions about life in Luxembourg.
The similarities between the two groups were self-evident and they agreed to work together to reach as many shelters as possible and spread knowledge and understanding through the pleasure of reading. “We really make great connections with the people we meet,” explains Marijane.
“One of the refugees wants to train to be a paramedic, so is always asking for books on anatomy and health.” Many of the books have been paid for by the Mateneen project or the Order of Malta, but there have also been donations from the European Parish of the Catholic Church, Editions Saint-Paul, Asti and the ministry of culture.
So, has the article Marijane read back in 2017 come to fruition? “Almost, but not quite,” she explains. “At the moment we are storing the 500 books we have in our own garages or cellars as we have nowhere permanent to house them. We also have to take the books in our cars, so we are limited to what we can carry; we still need that elusive mobile library bus which holds over 1,000 books! That would give the books a permanent home and allow us to easily travel around with them.”
In addition to a more permanent mobile home, the group is always looking for volunteers willing to give an hour or two of their time to help out. Volunteers do not have to be literary experts or even multilingual, just enthusiastic, committed and helpful.“In our culture we take reading bedtime stories to our children at night for granted,” says Patricia. “For many of these families, it is the only time during the day that they gather together and speak in their mother tongue. Books can take you on magical journeys of discovery and that’s something everyone is entitled to.”
Monthly visits are currently made to the refugee shelters at Don Bosco/Lily Unden, Eich, Differdange, Oberkorn and the cultural centre on rue de Strasbourg in the Gare district. The group currently has approximately 500 books in more than five languages. However, books are always welcome, particularly those in Albanian, Tigrinyan (one of the languages from Eritrea), Arabic, Farsi and anything multilingual.
This article was originally published in the April 2018 edition of Delano Magazine.
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, we mistakenly said that Bibliotherapy received funding from, among others, the Anglican Church; it was the European Parish of the Catholic Church. We also misspelled Marijane Andreopoulos’s first name. Apologies.