Gyaw Gyaw is a small and dedicated team of colleagues, working closely together since 2009.
The majority of us are Karen ethnics that through different life roads ended up in the small border village named Noh Bo. Norwegian architect, Line Ramstad, came to the same village on a temporary architect project in 2008, and we all met at the building site. In 2009 we founded Gyaw Gyaw together, and with different skills and knowledge, we have all contributed to a slow and sustainable development of our projects, as well as our own organization.
Portraits by Vincenzo Floramo.
Paw Eh Wah
Administrator, communication locally and between architects and team. Project manager and overview design.
Paw Eh Wah
My name is Naw Paw Eh Wah. I was born in 1988 December 26th in a small rural village outside the city of Taungoo, Burma. Our village was nestled in a beautiful landscape with dense jungle, rivers and waterfalls.
Our house was completely made of bamboo. We also used bamboo for cooking pots and the leaves for eating plates. The rich jungle gave us fruits, leaves, herbs and vegetables. Everyone helped each other and had a good heart. It was a good place to grow up.
We planted rice, in the fields, and also grew veg food and vegetable for eating. We also had gardens vegetables and betel nuts. When we to much food, we sold it on the market in the town. In the summer we went fishing in the river. We dried the fish, and made made fishpaste – a Karen delicacy.
I am the youngest of 12 chiIdren. I used to have 7 brothers and 4 sisters, now 4 of them are dead. When I was one and half years old, my father died, and my mother had to take care our big family, working very hard to give us food, clothes, education. So everything was very difficult for her, but she loves us so much. Many times she got problems and lost energy, but she did not show us her problems. She sent me to get education step by step. She did not have the time to take care of me herself, but she left me to someone else to take care. I learn from her behavior and I try to do by my self.
When I was 18, I moved to the refugee camp Ma la Oon. I was a teacher there for one year before moving to the village of Noh Bo. One day I heard about the opening of a new orphanage and I went to live and work there. At the orphanage I also met my husband, Saw Dee. At the same time I studied in the Academy School for two more years. My life has been a struggle in many ways, but I happy and also I learned a lot during the tough times.
We married when I was 21 years old. At first we stayed in a chicken house, because we did not have anywhere else to live. We did not have enough money to buy what we needed for the house. We had to take care of many chickens to get money.
In March 14th, 2009 I gave birth to my first child. His name is Arn Leh Moh. Later we also got two beautiful daughters, Deborah and Geerah. I am so happy about my family, and I love my family so much. I hope we can stay together forever.
Founder, board leader, architect, lead designer, project manager, sponsor agreements and reports. Social media and publications.
Line Ramstad/Nee Ga Mwee
My name is Line Ramstad/Nee Ga Mwee in Karen which means smiley face.
I was born in Vormsund, Nes, Akershus County, Norway in 1975.
I grew up on a farm with my parents and my younger sister, with grandparents and the whole extended family around us. My parents both had education, jobs and a lot of interests. They took good care of my sister and me and my biggest concern was being the smallest in class, too small for Levis 501 at the point these became popular.
As with all Norwegians, I have an identity and better rights then most. The question was not: “Are you going to study?” but “What are you going to study?” I could choose freely within the frames that my high school grades would allow me and followed my interests through my eight years at university. The result was a bachelor in Anthropology and Geography and a bachelor and master degree in Landscape Architecture.
After five great years as a landscape architect in a Norwegian architect office, I came to a Karen village at the border between Thailand and Burma in a temporary architect project. The day labour became my friends and together we founded Gyaw Gyaw. I am happy and grateful they gave me the trust and opportunity to stay with them and to develop Gyaw Gyaw together.
In 2012 I met Nick. He was working as a volunteer on the Grace Garden project and building site has never been more interesting! He had planned to be in the area for a year, but decided to stay and together with two good Karen colleagues he founded his own organisation. It was named Solbakken after his grandfathers farm, and they were working with renewable energy and water solutions. In 2016 we got married, and in 2017 we moved our base to Norway. The last part was not intended, but through all these years working for my colleagues papers, the situation was turned. I was the one in danger of being without any rights. Nick is American, but since grandfather was Norwegian and his mother was also born here, Norway was a natural choice for us. So, instead of going to Norway every year, we will now do the opposite and return to Noh Bo every year.
The first years back in Norway, I had a full-time position leading a project in Norway next to running Gyaw Gyaw. Two full-time jobs was however one too many, and with the support of our long-term sponsor HENT, I am was able to work solely with Gyaw Gyaw again from January 2010.
Head of building site.
Cofounder, carpenter and expert in traditional techniques. Leader of building site, divides work and leads the construction.
See Da Pah
When I was child, we were very poor. My parents were not able to get enough food for the whole family, so my siblings and me often went to bed hungry. My parents were rice farmers. One day, on the day back from the rice fields, they encountered the soldiers from the Burmese army. Being held at gunpoint, my parents were sure that they would be killed. But answering correctly to the soldiers questions saved their lives. The soldiers stole the rice, and asked for 300 baht. But my parents did not have any money to give them, so they were beaten. They arrived home very late that night, and my brothers and sisters and me had already been sleeping for hours. They made us rice porridge, that tasted delicious, because we hadn’t been eating all day.
Life was hard; never enough food, never any money, and in constant fear of the Burmese army. My mother and father took the decision to leave the village, and go towards the Thailand border. We settled down in Noh Bo, on the Thai side of the border.
In the beginning it was not easy to come to a new place. We didn’t know anyone, and we didn’t have any job or money. Sometimes I could get a day job for a neighbor, paying 20 baht a day. It was hard work, but I was grateful, because we needed the money to buy food for the family.
One day my father got very sick. I had to spend a lot of money on expensive medicine. We had to work very hard to pay for food and his medicine. I looked in the eyes of Mom, and I saw her tears falling down her chins. Mom was crying, and it made me really sad, because I knew how she felt. I encouraged Mom to stay strong, and promised her that we would make it, even if it was going to be hard. The most important thing was my Dad recovering. After a few visits to the clinic, he was slowly getting better, and eventually recovered.
After Dads recovery, I decided that I wanted to get married. I had never thought about marrige before, I had always had to much to worry about in my life.
When I met my wife for the first time, she was very poor. She had no place to live, and stayed at her brothers place. When her brother died, she moved into her nephews house. I felt so sorry for her, and I knew she needed someone to help her, so I decided to merry her.
Together we have to sons and one daughter. My family means a lot to me. Every day I go to work with the Gyaw Gyaw team is a good day, and it makes me happy. I am very grateful that I have a job, and I would like to thank Line for her wanting to help our people.
Expert in details.
Cofounder. Carpenter, expert in smoothening and a magic eye for details.
My name is Pah Me, and this is my story.
I was in Tha Koh Poh, Karen State, Burma. It was a big village in the middle of the jungle, with a market and a monastery. I grew up with my mother, my father and my little sister. My father worked very hard in the rice fields as day labor. My mother took care of me and my little sister. When I was very young, how young exactly I dont know, my mother got very sick. She was taken to a clinic far away and died, and I never got to see her again. I had to take care of my baby sister. My uncle helped my family, and I got a job herding his cattle when I was around 7. I never went to school.
There has been war as long as I can remember. The Burmese army came again and again, burning down the rice fields, and stealing our food. We had to hide in the jungle every time they came to not be killed. We rebuilt, only for them to attack us again.
Life was difficult. Never enough food, and even if someone had money, they could not buy because of food rationing. When I was around 15, I join the Karen army. I felt safer in the frontlines of the war then I did in my village. I have been a soldier ever since, and until recently, still went to army meetings. It is hard to be a soldier. We had to walk for days with a lot to carry in dense and hot jungle with little food. I have been shot many times. My knee is still painful.
I met my wife in Noh Bo. His husband ran away after their second baby. It was very difficult for her, and she needed someone, so I decided to marry her. Her two kids are like my own, and now we also have 3 beautiful grandchildren. I love my family.
I am very happy to work with Gyaw Gyaw. We are doing an important job helping our people and children to get a better future.
Drawings and design review.
Skilful carpenter with overview of the total project and a special eye for details.
Kee Kee Pah
My name is Saw Dah Lar, but I also go under the name Kee Kee Pah. I am forty years old. My mom was teacher Jury and my father is pastor Saw Ku. I was born 6 of January 1977 in Da Gye village in Myanmar. In my childhood it was a militia war and the army burnt my village in time after time. The third time my mom got shot by army then we leave our village and we move to A Ya Wa Dee river side, close to the sea.
In 1981 I start to go school, but when I am grade four in 1988 the uprising of students fight a battle for rights. I have to stop school for a while to help my family. In 1990 (Bo K’ Lay disturbance) the Burma army using flagship and shot many of village people and some are put into a jail. I finish school at grade 9 and I have to stop education. I help my family to plough a field and work in fishery in the sea. When the Burma army comes to my village and arrests the people to make roads. I ran away to Rangoon to find a job.
In 2000 I find a job of doing dyeing and printing. I work in 7 years. In 2007 September disturbance happen again in Rangoon the Burma army are fighting the citizens, students and monk. At that time I can’t go to work, so I go back to my village. I went back to doing fishery in the sea and work at ship in 5 months. When I get sick I come back at home.
In 2008 everything was ruined when cyclone NaGi (Nargis)is come to our village. Everywhere and every place were flooded by seawater. Some of my family members who work in ships are lost in sea. The house and some of people are disappearing in the storm. It was nothing to eat and no place to stay.
One of my grandmothers, who had run away for the war and lived in Mae La refugee camp, hear the news from Burma and ask someone to find her family. They found me and I follow them to the refugee camp. I lived with my grandmother for six months, but she is getting ole and die. When I stay with my grandmother I work for a daily work, building school, water tap, build toilet and spray insecticide in camp. After my grandmother died I had difficulties. I had no food and no friends, and because we have a different Karen dialect, no one wants to give me the work. I decide to go back to my home, but in 2009 -2010 the fighting exceeds in the border area, and I can’t make a way for myself to go home.
In 2010 I get a chance to study about agriculture through an NGO, and I ask them to give me a work and a place to stay. I work with them for five years. Then they stop their project.
In 2011 I get married. At that time, in camp they take away food, so we did not have enough food to eat. I try to find a way to go out of camp and work for daily worker, but we did not have the opportunity to go out. If we go out of the camp for five days we need to give 250 bath for every week, but salary is only 150 baht a day. I try to find a work to feed my family, but no more work for me to work.
In 2012 I get a son. My wife already also has a daughter. We all want to stay together, but with the difficult situation without food, we can’t live together because I need to find money for my family.
In 2015 my wife asking for me to work in G’yaw G’yaw they know my situation and let me to work with them as a day worker. In 2016 I become a member of G’yaw G’Yaw I really thankful NeGaMwee that let me to be in their team. Sometimes she takes me to home and pick up me to work on the way. I not fear to travel to work now.
I work in G’yaw G’Yaw since 2015 and I feel very grateful. It is very helpful for me and my family. We do not have to worry for food to eat and to live. I never saw the opportunity like G’Yaw G’Yaw. We have the opportunity to work friendly with leader and worker. If we get sick, they take care us for medical fees, we have enough food for three time a day and we get free transportation to go to work and come back. We don’t have to worry for our families because in G’Yaw G’yaw, family is number one and if our family get sick, we get paid haft salary to stay with them and medical fees are covered.
G’Yaw G’Yaw give a lot of opportunities for education in Thai and Myanmar border-land. Many Karen children get an opportunity for education; they can learn and have a place to live a school. G’Yaw G’Yaw is also helpful for village people to develop their community. I hope this organization will continue for many years and will have more support to go forward together. I really thank every organization in Norway who had support our G’Yaw G’Yaw God will blessing you more for your support.
I specially thank to Ne Ga Mwee who has organized G’Ya G’Yaw and she gives her time and her knowledge to us. We have learned many things from her knowledge of building and drawing construction. Because of her sharing knowledge we now understand how to follow the drawings when we do construction. Because of her situation she go back to Norway, but we feel like she with us because her drawings and constructions are with us in every project. I hope we will have more chance to work together in future.
Cofounder, carpenter, administrative and social responsibilities on building site.
My name is Phillipa I was born in (1976) Hlaing Bwae Township, Karen State, Burma.
When I was eight years old, Burmese troops arrested my father and asked him to carry ammunition for them. Later the Burmese troops arrested my father again and accused him of rebellion. They tied him up and took him away. We were very scared because usually if a person would be accused of rebellion, he would be killed. My father disappeared for two nights before he came back home. From that point on, we had to hide in the forest and move from place to place. At that time, I had six siblings. Our lives were very difficult.
Later on, we moved to the Thai Burma border. Unfortunately, my father died when I was 14 years old. I moved away and got married in 2000. Now I have three children. Life is still difficult, as it has been since the day I was born.
I met Line in 2008, and she gave me possibility for a job in Gyaw Gyaw team. We are working full of happiness and love.
Responsible for architecture Architect and project manager, project scheduling and connection between design and implementation.
Jae-Young Lee came to Mae Sot in 2016 to learn more about participation processes in architecture while interning with Agora Architects. Through common friends, she met Line who also introduced her to the Gyaw Gyaw team. When Line moved her base to Norway in 2017 and Gyaw Gyaw was in need of more architecture competence, Jae was a preferred candidate. With knowledge about architecture in combination with a deep understanding for life along the Thai/Burma border, she has been a great addition to the team and contributed to further developed the teams skills.
Trainee. Participating in Gyaw Gyaw´s projects as a trainee. Learning from the team to become a carpenter.
Pah Da is our trainee and slowly learning the skills of carpentry. He is a typical day labor and have never learned how to read and write. Because of family connections, Pah Da was allowed into our team, but without the same skills as the team and without the eagerness to learn, he is performing easier tasks on the building site and fill a needed position in that way.
Procurement manager Organises around each project and the running of the organization. Driver, procurements, translator.
My name is Saw Dee. I was born in Mae Wah, a small village in Karen state, Burma. I was very tiny as a child, and sick all the time. My mother was concerned that I would not survive. We did not have enough money to buy the food, medicine, or clothes, but we had rice from the field, fish from the river and fruit from the jungle. We were living a simple life.
We did not have blankets neither, so we made a fire at night to keep warm. One night, when I was 6, I slept to close to the fireplace and my blanket caught fire. I was seriously injured. One year after that incident, when I was 7, the Burmese Army came to our village. They destroyed it, and burned down everything to the ground. They stole the little we had of food, and destroyed our rice fields. We had to flee to the dense jungle to save our lives. But we couldn’t stay there for a long time, and we finally arrived to Klo Pa Klo refugee camp in Thailand.
I went to school in the camp, continuing my education until 4th grade. I wanted to continue further, but my parents could not afford the school fees. I got a job in a Thai village, but since I was just a little kid, I was not paid a lot for my job. After one year of working, I manage to save up enough money to pay for my education. I finished 5th to 10th grade, working in the Thai village every holiday to pay the school fees. When I was 14 years old, we moved to Mae La camp. I was accepted at the bible school in Noh Bo after 10th grade. It cost 2000 baht pr year, and I did not have that kind of money. But with the help of good friends, helping me with paying for school fees and school uniforms, I was able to finish bible school in 2 years. After Bible school, I got a job at Blessed Home, an orphanage here in Noh Bo. Here I met my beautiful wife, Paw Eh Wah, and we got 3 adorable children. Arn Leh Moh, Deborah, and Geerah.
I am very happy working with the Gyaw Gyaw team, and I am very proud of the work we do.My wish for the future is that the Karen people will be free, and that there will be peace in Burma.
Architect. Has been working with Gyaw Gyaw since 2017 on project base.
Daniel Evensen is a Norwegian architect who has long term experience from the border area through annual visits to his friend who runs an orphanage in our village. Daniel also did his master thesis on the border and showed great knowledge of both architecture and the frames of the area where we work. As Line moved to Norway in 2017 and Gyaw Gyaw was in need for additional architecture competence, Daniel was a natural and popular choice. He has contributed to further expand our knowledge and developed our architecture to new levels.
Security. Social support and security for Line/Nee Ga Mwee. The village`s most famous dog.
Mr.Brown was born in MTC trainingcenter in 2010. His parents were stray dogs who had sought shelter and found food among the students and staff that moved out to the clinics new land.
Gyaw Gyaw was also living on the same land, constructing a new trainingcenter and office for the clinic.
One day Lines bike got stolen, and the next day Mr.Brown – then a puppy – was given to her from her colleagues, to watch her and her assets. That was the start of a close relationship leading both of them to new places and adventures on a regular base.
After more then a year in Mae Sot, Mr.Brown followed Line back to Noh Bo and that became their new base. Here he also got an extended family in Paw Eh Wah, Saw Dee and their kids. In 2012 Nick also showed up and the family was complete.
Mr. Brown was a proud and popular family dog watching both Line and Nicks and Paw Eh Wah and Saw Dee`s families for more than 10 years. He was also a well-known part of the village and the reason why all the children in Noh Bo know the english word for the colour Brown.
Mr.Brown passed peacefully away 18.10.2020 and was shown respect and dignity with a funeral. He is strongly missed.
Line Ramstad came to the remote Karen village, Noh Bo, on the border between Thailand and Burma in 2008 as part of a short term Norwegian architectural project. The village consists of Karen migrants who during the last decades has fled the Burmese army’s constant attacks and decided to cross the river to Thailand. In Thailand the Karen people can live in peace, but they have no rights, education is rare, it is difficult to find a paid work. In addition to this, there is a big risk that they might get arrested or returned to Burma if they were to leave the village.
When the Norwegian project started, day labor from the village therefor signed up for a job and with body language, a lot of humor and a common interest, friendships were made. When the Norwegian team moved on, Line, Phillipa, Peter and Pah Me decided to keep on working together, Line quit her job in Norway and they founded their own organisation, Gyaw Gyaw.
The first projects were as workers for other NGO`s that wanted to build for their friend Tasanee in Safe Haven Orphanage. The results were a concrete school building and a water purification system. A common interests in combining local traditions and practical skills with western architectural knowledge, made it however obvious that the focus should be on sustainability, both in regards to ecology, economy and culture. With help from Norwegian sponsors, Gyaw Gyaw was finally in a position to build their own projects. One of the first steps they took was to introduce locally produced sun dried earthen blocks (adobe) as material. This is a way of building that is locally available and affordable for refugees and migrants along the border, it is a material that keeps the temperature inside houses more stable and is an environmental, economically and socially good alternative to concrete. It has become one of Gyaw Gyaw`s most used materials/methods.
The cross-cultural combination is still a winning concept. The local knowledge and ties are priceless when it comes knowledge about materials and availability of these, climatical challenges and culturally determined use of the buildings. The western architectural knowledge is questioning it, focusing on functionality and architectural expressions and suggesting small changes to improve the existing habits.
The team knows by experience, the architects learn by doing and together they contribute to a bottom up and democratic development in the Karen areas of the border region.
Gyaw Gyaw`s board.
Our board is based in Norway where our organization is registered. They are supporting the team in Noh Bo and make sure our work is in line with our statutes and within economical frames present.
Founder & board leader.
Line Ramstad founded Gyaw Gyaw. She is the bridge between the sponsors in Norway and the work implemented on the border between Thailand and Burma, she is supervising the architects connected and keep an overall view of the organization.
The cultural differences between Norway and the border area are large and decisions that can seem reasonable in Norway might have unintended negative effects and harm the team, and their families, in Noh Bo. Line Ramstad therefor hold the position as the leader of the board and are overall responsible for the organisation to be run in line with the statutes and in a way where support from our long term collaborative partners are used for the best along the border.
Solveig Dahl Grue is an educated architect and has extensive experience from different sides of the architectural field. She has design experience from private offices, worked with project management of prestige projects through the City of Oslo, was development manager at the Architectural Firms in Norway, and early stage project manager at Statsbygg. She now leads Ratio Architects with nearly 60 employees. With Solveig on the team, the architectural profession in Gyaw Gyaw is strengthened. Solveig is knowledgeable and tidy and has a good overview of both the subjects and the surrounding community. She knows Gyaw Gyaw from previous collaboration with Line Ramstad and has shown a good understanding of the organization, also in a larger perspective.
Christine Riiser Wist is both a trained librarian and a landscape architect and have through her career successfully alternated between the two professions. Starting out in The National Library of Norway, she moved on to architecture and planning. After more than 10 years in a variety of companies, ranging from bigger consultancies to smaller landscape architect and planning offices, she went back to work as a librarian and became the chief librarian in Nes Kommune. She is now back in landscape architecture again and is working for Sweco.
Christine has followed our work and progress since the start and been a great support along the way.
Wonderful people that also have contributed to Gyaw Gyaw`s development through the years.
Ole Gunnar Michelsen
Team member 2014 – 2016
Administration and economics.
Ole Gunnar Michelsen
My name is Ole Gunnar.
I was born in the beautiful city of Bergen, on the west coast of Norway. I had a very good childhood; many friends to play with, and a loving and caring family. When I was 3 years old, my father abruptly died, and left my mother, my brother and me in grief. But even if the family was hit hard by this tragedy, the 3 of us kept close, my mother took very well care of us.
Playing football was my biggest passion when I was a child. Every afternoon, after school, and after doing my homework, we played in the streets. Every spare moment was spent, thinking, talking and playing football. Looking back at it, it is a miracle I never became really good considering all the time and effort I put into it. Maybe I wasn’t as talented as I would like to think I was.
I went through school with good, but not amazing grades. After graduating high school, I decided that I wanted to study social economics. After my studies, I worked for many years in finance, but I decided I needed new challenges in my life.
The work and philosophy of Gyaw Gyaw has always been something I have admired since the first time I met Line, New Years Eve 2010. When she in the fall of 2013 invited me to join the magnificent team of Gyaw Gyaw, it was the easiest thing in the world to accept.
Ole Gunnar is now continuing his work with his biggest passion in PlayOnside
Team member 2009 – 2015 Founder, designer and carpenter.
Main carpenter, technical leader, designer, construction worker. Founder. Peter is now using his skills working on a building site outside of Bangkok where he has gotten quite some responsibility.
My name is Saw Peter and I was born in Htee Hla Nae village, Hlaing Bwae Township, Karen State, Burma. I have three siblings and I am the second child. I feel that I have never receive love my father and I didn’t recognize the appearance of him.
A tragedy had come to our family when I was two years old. At that time there was ever hot war between hot war between Karen National liberation Army (rebel) and Burmese troops. At that time, villager was force to carry immunization; some suspected were killed by Burmese troops.
My mother was pregnant when my father was killed. My mother had to look after us and everything we need. At that time, my elder was (5) years old and I was (2) years old. The villagers had to escape from human rights abuse and danger. Our family move from place to place in difficult situation. Sometimes, food was not enough for our family.
Then we moved to Klaw K’Tit a village on Thai – Burma border. One thing I cannot forget in my life is the time my mother was full of sorrow when I asked her for a new pant I need. She replied me full of sorrow that my son I want to buy you a pant but food is more important, life is very difficult I have to take your father responsibilities and my own at the same time. You will be able to buy yourself when you can work.” I was pity on her and could not say anything.
I started going to school at age 9. I could finish grade 4 only because my mother was unhealthy although we could not effort for my further education. I had to look after my mother and star working. My first job was selling snack, filling water for other people in the village.
When I was (17) I started working and learning carpentry from a carpenter. A couple years later the carpenter was sick and died. Then I went to Mae Tha Wow, a village in Thailand and work for four years. Later I stopped working there and got marriage. I became daily labor but didn’t have work ever days.
I want to work in urban area but I don’t have Thai ID so it is a big problem. Now I have a daughter and she needs Thai ID for her further education.
In November 2009 our family met met with Line a Norwegian and we know each other. She gave me a job in Gyaw Gyaw team and I want to thank her very much. I am not quit healthy therefore my family in difficult situation.
The most important thing for us is to get Thai ID in order to travel and work in freedom, especially for my daughter’s further education.
Peter is now working on a building site in Bangkok.
Gyaw Gyaw`s work is financed through long-term support from companies in Norway. The support is based on clear agreements and full transparency of work and finances. This is also available in our annual reports on our webpage.