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The Re-opening of the British Council, Yangon
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Nearly Forty Years ago she hid the books, and now she re-opens the British Council Centre.

In 1965, Monica Mya Maung was Librarian at the British Council Rangoon when, following a military coup and the decision of the new government to isolate Burma from the world, the Council was asked to leave the country. "A young man" as Monica now calls him, came out from London and instructed her to donate all the books to local institutions as precribed by British Council procedures. The British Ambassador speech at the opening ceremony

The British Ambassador speech at the Re-opening ceremony

Monica knew that the government would insist on a lengthy censorship procedure before allowing the donations, and that the books, many of which contained impartial accounts of Burmese history to date, would be defaced and perhaps destroyed. When "the young man" had gone therefore she carefully hid the books, with the connivance of many Embassy officials, in as many cupboards and drawers as she could find in the Embassy and in Embassy residences, floating British Council regulations.

Miraculously they all survived until the Council re-opened in the late 70s. When the late Nigel Hudson arrived to be the new Cultural Attaché , Monica confessed to him that she had disobeyed orders, and that there were two hundred books stashed away ready to form the core of the new library.

Nigel was delighted especially as these books, some of them now out of print and all of them completely unavailable in Burma, had now become a very valuable collection. Monica was re-engaged as the council librarian, and served until 1989, when she retired in her mid-seventies, with an MBE and an Honorary Membership of the British Council. Sometimes it is right to breach the rules.

The Library now contains over 12000 volumes, but those 200 precious survivors are still part of the collection, locked behind a glass case for preservation, but still available for members to read on request, and proudly known as the MMM collection.

Monica unveils the plugeMonica too is still with us at the grand age of 86, and there was no-one else we could have asked to unveil the plaque which marked the re-opening of the British council Centre. She is, as the British Ambassador, Dr John Jenkins, said in his speech, "the soul of the British Council Rangoon".

Monica unveils the pluge

 

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