The Best Friend was founded in 1999 by two Burmese monks from Rangoon. There are three library branches in Thailand (Chiang Mai, Mae Sot and Nu Po), one in Burma (Sagaing Division, Shan State, Mandalay). There is also an impressive on line library which can be found at http://www.thebestfriend.org/archive/
I had heard many positive comments about the Best Friend Library in Chiang Mai but hadn’t gotten around to visiting until I received an invitation to attend an event. The event turned out to be a private recital by Ko Thet, an amazing classical guitarist. The tiny library was packed with supporters and we were treated to some of the most beautiful music you can imagine. Hopefully I will have an interview with Ko Thet on line in the near future.
During this first visit I had the opportunity to meet Garrett Kostin who is the manager of the Chiang Mai branch. A few days later I returned to the library and had a most interesting conversation with Garrett. As it turns out Garrett had been in Mae Sot where he met the two Burmese monks who founded the organization. Garrett was looking for ways to help the Burmese people and was considering taking information to Burma. Somehow he was asked to open a branch in Chiang Mai, which he did in 2010.
Today the Chiang Mai branch maintains the largest English-language collection of books, reports and films about Burma in all of Thailand. Many are available for lending; others must be read at the library. Personally I’m working through their collection of documentary films. Each is an eye opener. One that I must recommend is Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country.
There are three categories of activity at the Best Friend Library – Chiang Mai:
1. Awareness-raising / campaigning. The organize awareness-raising events about Burma for the local and expatriate community. Activities include, but are not limited to, forums, film screenings, book discussions, lectures, etc. The library campaigns for human rights, peace and democracy in Burma.
2. Information Sharing. Local and international organizations who direct their efforts toward Burma often use the Chiang Mai branch of the Best Friend Library as a distribution point for their information. The library has become the hub of pro-Burma activity in Chiang Mai. The website shares information about Burma with people all over the world.
3. Teaching. Staff and volunteers provide free English and computer lessons to migrants from Burma.
A final thought: It’s right to support The Best Friend because they work tirelessly to support the ordinary citizens of Burma, both at home and Thailand. Libraries may not be the most exciting thing around, especially when you consider all that’s going on that effects the migrant children along the Thai/Burma border. However, this outfit is doing important work and deserves our support. When in Chiang Mai, please visit the library. They are located at 302/2 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 13, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Visit them on line at The Best Friend Website. It's no ordinary library!