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.