Project Description

Classrooms for Gaw La Heh Primaryschool



Design: Line Ramstad

Project manager: Paw Eh Wah

Square meters: Classrooms 6 x 35 m² + Toilets 5 x 2 m²

Classroom: Freestanding adobe walls on bamboo reinforced concrete slab. Common roof structure for all six classrooms on double 6″2″ post structures on concrete shoes. Insulated tin roof.
Toilets: Concrete slab with timber construction on iron shoes. Bamboo walls. Tinroof. 

Client: Karen Education Department (KED) + Je Po Kee Village 

Project period: 2016 + 2017 + 2018

Costs: 1 230 259 THB (299 986 NOK)

Team: See Da Pah (leader of building site), Phillipa, Pah Me, Kee Kee Pah, Saw Dee, Pah Da, Ste Pha, P`Enge. 

Villagers has contributed with day labor

Counselors: Jae-Young Lee, Daniel Evensen, Albert Company-Olmo, Estudio Cavernas

Project description

Gaw La Heh school: Placed on a picturesque and natural flat area on the Burmese side of the hills surrounding the Moei River Valley, Je Poe Kee village was by several occasions attacked by the Burmese Army and finally left abandoned. It does not take long for nature in the tropics to take over, so for years the remedies of the village were hidden in the dense jungle. In 2008, a few people decided to give it a try and moved back. Among them the headmaster who started Gaw La Heh Primaryschool as the center of the reconstruction. In 2009 the village was attacked again, and the school burned down. Luckily everyone survived, and the school was rebuilt on the edge of the village, overlooking the valley.

We have followed the school for years and have been impressed by their ability to run and develop with sparse funds and recourses. This is mainly due to a skilled and charismatic headmaster, and good teamwork and support within the village. They are using KED`s (Karen Education Departments) curriculum and the teachers are paid by them. The school also gets some additional support from KYO (Karen Youth Organization). By 2016 they had 200 students divided in 7 classrooms from kindergarten to level 6, all sharing one room, and the need for new school buildings were absolutely present. Approximately 100 of them were residing in dormitories.

Design: The old school site on the edge of the hilltop gave it a beautiful view but made it vulnerable for strong winds. Only a few years ago, the whole roof blew off, so in agreement with the village, we placed the new compound away from the edge and designed it with a roof shaped to avoid turbulence. The six classrooms were also placed around a common sheltered square. All walls inward, towards the square are shaped with corners to utilize classroom space, while all walls outwards are rounded to avoid turbulence and guide the wind past the compound. Windows towards south are also smaller to avoid direct sunlight, while the north facing windows are larger to let daylight in. All windows are however quite tall to allow for natural airflow through the full height of each room. The majority of materials are locally harvested and the pit left from adobe production is reused for sewage for toilets. 

Implementation: In a village like Je Po Kee, the villagers are dependent on growing rice and vegetables and harvesting from the jungle for food. Life here also requires a lot more physical labor to keep houses safe and waterproof. To be able to keep the villagers involved, we divided the construction into three phases, completing two classrooms each year from 2016 to 2018. By experience, this is also a good way to better establish ownership to the school in its society. We have also improved an existing adobe kitchen (Gaw La Heh Primaryschool Kitchen refurbishment) and made dormitories (Gaw La Heh Primaryschool Dormitories) for the school. 



To start a project in a small village like Je Poe Kee cannot be done in a day! The physical result of a design/build/leave project can also look both functional and good, BUT what have you then actually left behind? What is the purpose of the project?

For us, the finished building is the result of a long en inclusive process that also creates a mutual respect and knowledge exchange between us and the villagers. To understand the village internal arrangements is also crucial to get the right people involved. That again anchor the project and finally the building in the village itself. It can, and will not be moved with us.

So, before we even get to the stage of having the first meeting in the village itself, we have followed the school for a while. We are not trained in, nor focused on running schools, we only support the schools with sustainable buildings. To know that the school is well run within it`s potentials is therefor crucial.

Involving the villagers does not only give them the ownership to the school, it also increases the schools position in the village and leads to more children actually attending and fulfilling their local education. 

In villages like Je Poe Kee, working together is also the norm and this collective collaboration where everyone always owe each other services, contributes to the stability and resilience of the village. 



The Gaw La Heh project in Je Po Kee village is one of our more successful projects, a lot thanks to previous project implementations and evaluated mistakes. To divide the process into several stages and not build too much at the same time, was a smart move, directly learned by our Kler Deh project. 

If we were to do this project again, we would however have made a different roof structure. The long beams are a too big of a step compared to traditional building style and is viewed as an alien, more than an example to follow. It is also not a 100% correct beam in a constructional manner, and is therefor not strong enough to keep straight through years of use. It will not dall down, but is already smiling some places.