Gyaw Gyaw is an NGO located at the Thai-Burma border that supports Karen education through architecture and participatory building processes. Gaw La Heh Primary School is one of 30 projects implemented by Gyaw Gyaw since 2009. At the start of the project the school had approximately 100 students representing six classes and kindergarten. In agreement with the headmaster and the village leader, six small classrooms were designed around a common square connected by a continuous roof shaped to guide the strong winds over and around the buildings. The project also contains two dormitories, toilets, baths, and a renovated kitchen, all built with the principles of sustainable and participatory architecture.
Je Po Kee village is a small remote village located in Karen State where the inhabitants live in and off the jungle. Due to civial war in Myanmar a large Karen population has been living across the Thai border in selforganized communities or refugee camps for decades. Because Gaw La Heh is a popular school in a well-run village it is attracting more people to move back to Karen State and is therefore growing.
Given the remote nature of the community, access to materials from the outside is limited and can only be delivered by one of the few cars available at a time when the road is accessible. As a result, wood-working skills and material knowledge is well spread among the people and therefore Gyaw Gyaw also works with materials and techniques that can be maintained by the villagers themselves.
Being a local organization that works with and within the surrounding communities, Gyaw Gyaw is in continuous dialogue with stakeholders from past, ongoing, and future projects. Stakeholder inputs and lessons learned provide fluid and sustained feedback that influences future design. Within the context of this conflict zone, this feedback mechanism is not in a formalized system but within daily collaboration and conversations. Initial formalized meetings address the needs of the users and set the framework for the design. As these projects are initiated and driven by the recipient communities, Gyaw Gyaw strives to meet the stakeholder’s needs through collaboration and mutual respect: Host communities provide materials, local knowledge and labour while Gyaw Gyaw leads the common design and provides building knowledge.
The most important way Gyaw Gyaw ensures community and stakeholder accountability is by not initiating the project. The communities are aware of their own needs and they approach Gyaw Gyaw with their project idea. Gyaw Gyaw then collaborates with them to fulfill their project’s goal; thus, from the beginning, the project ownership is always held by the community. Additionally, community members contribute with labor and local knowledge, further increasing engagement and mutual trust for future collaboration.