A month ago, I had the honor of shooting a special project at Free Bird Cafe and Thai Freedom House in Chiangmai, Thailand. This experience was beautiful and intimate. With Huffington Post, we produced this video about how this little cafe is making a huge impact for the Burmese immigrants in Chiangmai.
You see, Free Bird Cafe isn’t just a cafe in Chiangmai. It serves a much greater purpose that I’d like to share.
Before beginning this video, I sat down with Lisa Nesser, the founder of Thai Freedom House. I approached her because after dining at the cafe I was blown away by their authenticity and charm. I knew very little about how the cafe was involved in the Thai Freedom House and what a typical day looked liked.
Besides serving delicious vegetarian and vegan food, Free Bird Cafe provides 100% of its proceeds to the non-profit Thai Freedom House (which is located upstairs from the cafe.) This amazing charity is a learning center for Burmese (who are primarily Shan State migrants) and local hill tribe people.
When the restaurant closes at 5pm then the school opens. Nearly every night, two classrooms are filled with eager students from the ages of 5 to 50. Some adults are unable to write even in their native language. Thai Freedom House offers English, Thai, Burmese, and Chinese language classes. In addition, other basic education and arts classes are available. While the English class was in session, I was able to quietly shoot video. This brief time allowed me to see first hand what it is like for a “stateless” immigrant to receive an education.
This experience was humbling, because I tend to surround myself with my “work” which tends to be centered around only food and my lifestyle (which I’m grateful for.) I’m not complaining or suggesting I’m on the wrong path. However, after witnessing so many Burmese strive to say the words “Hello, good evening”, I was blown away by their desire to make their lives better for themselves and their families. Many of the students have seen and experienced the type of loss we only read about. Nearly six decades of civil war and conflict among ethnic groups has left Burma in a state of despair. While many flee to Thailand, they are considered stateless and aren’t provided basic education and the same rights as Thai citizens.
Thai Freedom House has become a vital resource for small number of these displaced Burmese. The work that Lisa and the House continues to do is inspiring. After spending just a day with her and the Burmese students, I feel a calling do more work like this and step away from “my focus” more frequently. In the future, I would like to use my gifts and abilities for something greater and spread positivity.