Sunday, 31 March 2013

Best Friend Library -- Emotions Stirred!

On Thursday the 28th of March The Best Friend Libray in Chiang Mai hosted an event called “Burma’s Burning Issues”.  This event was scheduled and published before the horrid fire at Ban Mae Surin refugee camp near Mae Hong Son and before the latest escalation of ethnic violence inside Burma.  To report that the evening was charged with emotion would be an understatement.  The venue was the gallery / office of Documentary Arts Asia, an ideal venue for small events.  This time the gallery was packed!  People lined the balcony on the second floor, crowed into whatever space they could find on the ground floor and filled the stairs, where I was sitting.  I was only stepped on twice and never lost my soft drink. At least two of the ladies had very nice perfume and one person definitely needed to do something about his body odor!  I guess we could have squeezed in another 10 or so.  The slight overcrowding added to the excitement and many emotions were stirred.  The event was a huge success!

The biggest success was, in my opinion expressed in the compassion of the people present.  Almost 15,000 THB was raised to help the refugees at Ban Mae Surin after the devastating fire that occurred on Friday the 22nd.   More about that was written in my last post, and likely more will be written in a future article.  I just had to mention it here.

'Nothing About Us Without Us' was the first film shown.   For those of you who want to watch it, or watch it again, here is the YouTube link: Nothing About Us Without Us  

The film is just over 19 minutes long.  Seldom have I seen a film so short leave the viewer with so many questions and so many emotions.   A fair bit of controversy has also arisen over this film.   An anonymous source told me that this film failed to present a balanced perspective. He called it a 'straw man'.  Others have complained that it fuels rumors.  Personally, I think everyone who cares at all about the refugee situation should watch it and then draw their own conclusions.  

In my 68 plus years on this good earth, I've been exposed to a lot of rumors and several conspiracy theories.  Most of the time there is enough fact based information to get them started and sadly there is enough dis-information, mis-information and a plain lack of information get get people riled up and get the rumors rolling.  Want to prevent a rumor?  Tell the whole truth!  That's just my opinion and as many of you know I've often been accused of over simplifying complicated issues.  That's fine we have governments, large businesses and all sorts of agencies who seem to specialize in complicating that which ought to be fairly simple.   

Joseph from Burma Partnership Organization was on hand to answer questions and hear comments. The common thread was that neither UNCHR, the representative governments nor the international NGO'S have made sufficient effort to include the refugees in the planning and decision processes that will so greatly effect their lives.  No wonder they complain about the refugees spreading rumors!  

In fairness, it was mentioned that subsequent to the release of the film "Nothing About Us Without Us" there has been some improvement in communication with the refugees and the organizations that represent them. 

At the event, I was able to pick up three position papers by three separate organizations.  The common themes are that they do NOT want to be returned to Burma until there is a verifiable nationwide ceasefire.  They also want to be involved in decisions that effect their lives.   From what I read in the news, their positions are are reasonable and rational.  Point (10) from the Karen Refugee Committee reads "The repatriation can only take place when the concerned organisations, KRC, INGOs, NGOs, UNHCR, and CBOs agree that there is genuine peace in Burma". 

What can you do?   If everyone does something, just about anything really, the world will be a better place.  How about helping to promote The Best Friend Library and their good efforts by forwarding this to everyone you know, sharing it on you social networks, and even donating some money to help on going efforts? 

Abundant Blessings, 


Saturday, 30 March 2013

Cha Nay Chuu Needs OUR Help NOW!

Gentle Readers,

I just received the below posting from The Best Friend Burmese Library.  PLEASE help save this boy's life, he deserves a fighting chance!

Cha Nay Chuu - a 14 year old hero

People have asked me what can be done to help the refugees who were in the Ban Mae Surin fire.  As of right now, my best answer is a quote from the article below.

"If you are able to contribute any amount for the care of young, heroic Chaa Nay Choo, please bring the donation to The Best Friend Library at 302/2 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 13, Chiang Mai, with a note that the donation is specifically for Chaa Nay Choo (otherwise, donations are added to our “general” Karenni refugee fund, which will be used at the discretion of our partners Free Burma Rangers and the Karenni National Refugee Committee). Donations will also be collected at the “Burma: Realities & Possibilities” lecture by Khin Ohmar next Tuesday at Chiang Mai University, where we will be joined by a representative from the Karenni refugee community.

"Donations can also be made online through PayPal. Simply go to and send a donation of any amount to Again, please include a note explaining if you would like your donation to be used for Chaa Nay Choo specifically, or for the Karenni refugees in general".

The below article and photo's are:   © The Best Friend Library, Chiang Mai.

Dear members and supporters,

As The Best Friend Library continues to serve as a major collection point in Chiang Mai for donations in support of the refugees affected by the devastating fire that engulfed Mae Surin Karenni Refugee Camp last Friday, 22 March, we would like to introduce you to an absolutely heroic young man named Chaa Nay Choo.

These photos show Chaa Nay Choo as he is today, Saturday 30 March. He is being treated in the Intensive Care Burn Unit at Chiang Mai’s Suan Dok Hospital. He is breathing with the aid of a respirator, is fed through an esophageal tube, and is on a 24-hour morphine drip.  Second- and third-degree burns cover 50% of his small body.

Chaa Nay Choo could have easily escaped the fire unharmed. However, he refused to obey his parents' pleas for him to flee and to follow them to safety. Instead, he and his friends actually continually ran back into burning huts to assist other refugees and attempt to bring them to safety. He ignored concerns for his own safety, and sacrificed his own well being to help others in the fire that left 40 people dead, 400 homes destroyed, and 2,300 refugees homeless.

Doctors tell us that he will remain in the burn unit for at least three months. That is, he will remain in the burn unit if he does not succumb to his burns and the inevitable infections that will result. Although he has made a lot of hopeful progress since he was brought to the hospital in Chiang Mai, his prognosis remains at 50% because he is at very high risk for infections, both internally and externally.

Ten refugees from Mae Surin were brought for treatment to Suan Dok Hospital. Chaa Nay Choo is one of two originally in intensive care. The other victim has since passed away, and his body was returned to the camp on the Thai-Burma border for burial. We firmly believe that improving the chances of Chaa Nay Choo’s survival is worth fighting for.

We now know that no other members of Chaa Nay Choo's family were injured in the fire, but they have been prevented from leaving the Mae Surin Camp to visit him in Chiang Mai because they do not have the required Thai travel documents. We know that Chaa Nay Choo and his family left Karenni State, Burma, six years ago, and have been living in Mae Surin since then.

Without the generosity of The Best Friend’s members and supporters, Chaa Nay Choo would be receiving only the most basic medical care and nutritional support that the International Rescue Committee (IRC) can provide for, because the higher-quality, healthier, more nutritious supplements that will enable his immune system to rebuild itself and fight off infection, and which his doctors recommend, are just too expensive. The 800 grams of NestlĂ© Nutren Optimum that he can benefit from costs about 400 baht ($13.50 U.S.) per day.

To date, The Best Friend has collected 24,100 baht ($800 U.S.) in monetary donations for all of those affected by the fire, approximately 4,000 refugees. 10,000 baht has already been transferred to Free Burma Rangers, who have operations in Mae Surin, and 5,000 baht has been used to purchase 12.5 days’ worth of the higher-quality nutritional supplement for Chaa Nay Choo, and are already being administered to him at the hospital.

One of our primary immediate concerns and goals is to continue raising support for the care of Chaa Nay Choo. His doctors’ opinion is that he can benefit most from the continued provision of Nutren Optimum, which will help to rebuild his immune system to enable him to fight off infections. The Nutren Optimum can only be provided for him if outside funds can be raised because as a refugee from Burma, he is illegible for any support from the Thai governmental health care system, and the IRC has already determined what it is able to provide for him.

If the total cost of approximately 90 days’ worth of Nutren Optimum (36,000 baht / $1,200 U.S.) can be raised, the doctors’ suggestion is that our next endeavor be to raise money to purchase a generic form of the medicine Buminate (25% albumin). This medicine is very costly, 1,800 baht ($60 U.S.) per 50 mL bottle, and Chaa Nay Choo would require three bottles daily. However, this medicine could save his life. Albumin works to help his body maintain the protein and bind together the nutrients that he is rapidly losing through his wounds. He has already lost a significant amount of weight since he was admitted to the hospital.

Put simply, the immediate goal of this post is to collect an additional 31,000 baht ($1,035 U.S.) that will enable us provide for a full three-months’ supply of Nutren Optimum for Chaa Nay Choo. Any funds raised above and beyond that amount will be used to purchase as much medicine containing albumin as possible. Anything is better than nothing, and all will give Chaa Nay Choo a higher possibility of survival.

If you are able to contribute any amount for the care of young, heroic Chaa Nay Choo, please bring the donation to The Best Friend Library at 302/2 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 13, Chiang Mai, with a note that the donation is specifically for Chaa Nay Choo (otherwise, donations are added to our “general” Karenni refugee fund, which will be used at the discretion of our partners Free Burma Rangers and the Karenni National Refugee Committee). Donations will also be collected at the “Burma: Realities & Possibilities” lecture by Khin Ohmar next Tuesday at Chiang Mai University, where we will be joined by a representative from the Karenni refugee community.

Donations can also be made online through PayPal. Simply go to and send a donation of any amount to Again, please include a note explaining if you would like your donation to be used for Chaa Nay Choo specifically, or for the Karenni refugees in general.

If individuals in Chiang Mai would like to be met at the Suan Dok Hospital Burn Unit to purchase cans of Nutren Optimum for Chaa Nay Choo themselves, rather than simply donating money, this can be arranged by sending an email to

All of the hundred-thousand-plus refugees living in camps on the Thai-Burma border deserve to live lives as freely and healthily as you and me, yet they have been prevented from doing so for decades. Please help us make a positive difference in the life of one or many refugees from Burma today.

Thank you for taking the time to absorb this information, and for considering if you are able to help in any way.

note: This email report includes new information we learned today about Chaa Nay Choo. It is an updated version of the posting on The Best Friend's website at 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Tragic Fire in Refugee Camp - Can you help?

Gentle Reader,

If you keep up with the news in Thailand you know by now that there was a devastating fire in the Ban Mae Surin (2) refugee camp about 90 kilometers from Mae Hong Song Thailand. I haven’t been there but am told the situation is more than grim.  The death toll is more than 30 and as high as 60 according to one report. This camp is home to some 3,500 refugees who have fled Burma to avoid further persecution from the Burmese army.  Most of the residents there are Karenni, an ethnic minority that has been long persecuted by the Burmese junta.
Photo from Chiang Mai City New 
@ Karenni Further Studies Program
The camp was opened in 1992 by the Royal Thai Government.  Support for the refugees comes from several organizations.  The Thai government has repeatedly stated that the camps (there are something like 10 in total) will not be closed and the people will not be repatriated until it is safe for them to return home.  Approximately 2,900 people have lost their dwellings and support services due to last Friday’s fire.

Photo from Chiang Mai City New 
@ Karenni Further Studies Program

The humane thing to do is to help, but what exactly can you do?

The Border Consortium which is based in Bangkok has launched an international fund raising drive.  You can donate any amount on their website -

People who live in Thailand but not in Chiang Mai may be aware of efforts similar to the one I’m reporting below.

In Chiang Mai there is an excellent effort to collect badly needed supplies that will be taken to them.  The appeal is repeated below.  For more details, please contact Steve Yarnold>

Abundant Blessings, (count yours and share them)!

Jerry Nelson


Massive fire kills over 60 and leaves thousands homeless
that is a few days old - now the death toll is very sadly 60+

A convoy of volunteers is being organized to travel to Ban Mae Surin to transport much needed supplies to the survivors at this refugee camp. 

Khun Art, owner of The GAP House, is spearheading this drive and tells me they are in desperate need of; blankets, clothes, household items in addition to rice, noodle soup packets, canned foods and water. Monetary donations are also being accepted. 

Please bring your donations to Hillside 4 Condo reception desk before March 30. I know Khun Art and travelled with him several years ago to transport donations to flood victims in Uttaradit. A little will go a long way for these people in need.

Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide.



Sunday, 17 March 2013

News from the Best Friend Library

Gentle Reader, 

Have you ever known that you needed to do something, support something, was anxious to get started but just wasn't sure exactly what to do.  One bit of sage wisdom: when you get to a fork in the road, take it.  I have.  For several months I have known that I’m supposed to do something to support the displaced children along the Thai / Burma Border.  For now, I’ve decided to put all my effort into two  projects.

The Mae Tao Clinic.  I encourage you to help them with your donations. In the meantime I have good friends who are collecting medicines, supplies and clothing which I am more than delighted to carry to them on my semi-regular trips to Mae Sot. 

The Best Friend Library, especially the Chiang Mai branch.  What I hope to do is increase awareness of the many good works they do and help them raise badly needed funds to sustain their operations. The Best Friend Library is much more than a typical library, just take a look at the projects page on their website! In my opinion they're most important function is to tell the truth.  A lawyer once told me there is the opposing side’s truth, your truth and the truth.  The government of Myanmar tightly controls the press there.  Shall we call that the opposing side’s truth?  The Best Friend Library serves an extremely valuable service with their efforts to tell the truth according to the oppressed people of Burma.  Their website provides current content relative to the situation in Burma and along the Burma / Thai border. One of the important services provided by The Best Friend Library is their newsletter, which is published quarterly. Stop by the library to pick up a free copy, or download a PDF version. An article from the current issue is reprinted below:

The Best Friend Library’s new project combines environmental awareness, language training for youth in Shan State

Thum Ai, staff member of The Best Friend Library in Chiang Mai, has been awarded an EarthRights grant to launch a project in Shan State that focuses on fostering critical thinking, English skills, and respect for the natural environment among local youth.
Thum Ai

The quiet town of Hsipaw in northern Shan State may not appear to be the most sensible place for two once-outlawed Burma organizations to be launching a new project. Secluded in a maze of gorges and often overlooked by travelers on their way to the bustling cities of Lashio to the north and Mandalay to the south, Hsipaw has so far managed to avoid the rush of environmentally-destructive development visible throughout other parts of Burma.

However, The Best Friend and EarthRights International (ERI) believe Hsipaw is exactly the right place for such a project for two reasons: its unspoiled natural environment that can still be protected, and the unique qualifications of Thum Ai, a native of Hsipaw who has returned there after several years in Thailand to head this new ‘Green Training Program’ (GTP), a joint project of the two organizations.

The project not only emphasises the importance of environmental protection to local youth, but also offers basic English classes and establishes a new branch of The Best Friend Library — the second new branch since it recently became possible for the organization to again work openly inside the country, and the first in an ethnic state. Classes will include instruction on making natural fertilizers, methods for growing rice naturally with higher yields, and other subjects. Thum Ai has hired a local English teacher, and a fellow graduate from ERI will help teach organic farming techniques.

Education is the key! 
Thum Ai explains, “The local people have a basic respect for our environment. However, they don’t know that some of their activities are harmful, such as dependence on chemical fertilizers, excessive logging, and slash-and-burn methods. They should learn alternatives for taking care of their farms so that the environment will be able to sustain us in the future.”

The project has generated overwhelming interest and support from the local community. Not only has the village head provided a previously unused building for the location of the library, but Thum Ai has already been forced to expand the program due to the number of students who have registered for courses.
The first building
Thum Ai has extensive experience in library management and teaching English, having worked for The Best Friend Library in Chiang Mai for over a year prior to studying at ERI. According to him, “Shan people value English language education, and so creatively integrating environmental subjects with English lessons in a library will hit three birds with one stone, so to speak. Students will learn English and environmental science, and will be surrounded by books that can offer them even more knowledge.”

Thum Ai’s former teachers and colleagues from the School for Shan State Nationalities Youth, ERI, and The Best Friend are all very proud of the organizational skills and dedication he has demonstrated, according to Garrett Kostin, manager of the Chiang Mai branch of The Best Friend.

“Thum Ai is now able to utilize what he has learned from his experiences with Burma organizations in Thailand to educate and assist people in his native community, which is the ultimate goal for much of our work.”

Currently, the project has only secured sufficient funding to run an initial three-month course cycle, but Thum Ai has big dreams for the future.

“Right now, we only have a few books at the library, and it does not have much furniture or any electricity. We are temporarily holding the evening classes at the home of the village head. However, I plan to apply for additional grants to have the budget for electricity and to continue our project here.”

In addition, Thum Ai envisions that the project could expand to include income-generating activities related to eco-tourism. He explains, “Hsipaw is attracting tourists because of its natural beauty. The townspeople should promote green tourism. There is a restaurant up on the hill that is popular because it has a nice view of rice fields and serves organic fruits and vegetables. We should have more restaurants like this. We should also develop organic products, like organic soap.”

He would also like to add an advocacy component, encouraging and empowering villagers to campaign for the protection of their natural surroundings.

“The roads leading to Hsipaw are busy with mining machinery. You see big trucks trailing the steep cliff roads everyday, non-stop. There are big mining corporations stripping the mountains bare. Who owns these corporations? Are the local people consulted regarding the exploitation of natural resources in Shan State? The local people should know—and fight for—their rights. It’s their land that is being exploited, after all.”

If he is able to maintain the enthusiasm of the community, and to find donors to support the goals of the project, Thum Ai is hopeful that the project will grow according to his dreams, and that more youth will appreciate the importance of environmental protection.
“For me, education was the key to building my capabilities. I now need to give back education to the young people so that they will work for the development of our country without harming the environment.”

For more information about the Green Training Program in Hsipaw, or to make a donation, contact Thum Ai at or
Article and photo's by Nikos Dacanay