Gaw La Heh Primaryschool

New classrooms for Gaw La Heh Primaryschool in Je Po Kee village. The headmistress was one of the first to return to this village, and together with her fellow villagers, she has built a primary school that now counts more then 200 students. Around 100 of them live in dormitories. Gaw La Heh Primaryschool is divided in 7 grades, but have until now all shared one classroom.

Background

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 the over, so for years the remedies of the village was hidden in the dense jungle. In 2008, a few people decided to give it a try and moved back. Among them the headmaster now known as Tharamu Majaw, who started Gaw La Heh Primaryschool as the center of the reconstruction. In 2009 the village was attacked again and the school burned down, but everyone survived and the school was rebuilt on the edge of the village, overlooking the valley.

Since then the school has grown and established itself as a popular school among children from a bigger area, now hosting approximately 200 children divided in 7 classes from kindergarten to level 6. Of these, approximately 100 residence in the dormitories.

The school get some support from KED (Karen education Department), and some from KYO (Karen Youth Organisation), but this is hardly enough to cover the running costs of the school.  They do however manage to get a lot out of the sparse funds and resources they have. This is mainly due to their skilled headmaster and good teamwork and support within the village.  

We have followed the school for years, and found it to be a well run and locally anchored school that we were pleased to work with. The process leading towards the final decision has been led by Paw Eh Wah who has had several meetings with both the headmaster and the villagers. Our good friend Lay Taw in KED has also been an important connection in this project.

Details

Phase I, 2 classrooms out of 6, are built and designed by Gyaw Gyaw 2016 in cooperation with Gaw La Heh Primaryschool and KED by Thara Lay Taw.

15 weeks/404 246 THB

Gyaw Gyaw: Line Ramstad (project manager/architect) Peter, Phillipa, Pah Me, See Da Pah, Ste Pha, Kee Kee Pah and P`Enge. Saw Dee, Paw Eh Wah and Ole Gunnar has contributed in administrative matters.

Villagers have contributed as day labor.

Photo: Vincenzo Floramo and Line Ramstad

6 classrooms for Gaw La Heh Primaryschool

The village is beautifully placed on a smaller hilltop in a bigger landscape. It´s got tall Burmese mountains to the east and the river valley and slightly lower mountains inside Thailand to the west. The school is placed central in the village, overlooking it all. This gives it a stunning view, but also makes it vulnerable for strong wind that removed their roof some years ago.

Designing six new classrooms therefor required extra caution for strong wind, resulting in a semi closed compound with rounded corners to the outside and square corners to the central garden. The roof also got connected and shaped to avoid turbulence.

We normally aim to use adobe as the load bearing element, but because construction is set to be in hot season for all three phases, all roofs are placed on timber posts to improve working conditions underneath. The roofs are all connected, and some of the posts are reused for more phases when possible. Both the roofs and the classrooms are stepped down, following the inclining landscape.

Adobe is still our preferred materials. It´s both cheaper, better to work with, and a more sustainable choice that also gives us an opportunity to build thicker walls for a more stable inside temperature. Combined with windows adjusted to the sun and wind direction, direct sunlight never hits the inside of the room and natural airflow keeps them naturally chilled and ventilated.  

Classroom phase I – 2016

Classroom phase II – 2017

Classroom phase III – 2018

Process

To start a project in a small village like Je Poe Kee can 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. 

 

Phase I

The first phase was built in hot season 2016. With temperatures above 40 degrees we decided to construct the roof on posts and build adobe walls underneath it. The classrooms would have been just as good and cheaper with load bearing adobe walls, but since we are a team with ongoing projects, we can not adjust everything to the season, and this became an accepted solution to improve the working conditions for everyone. 

Sand is collected and carried in trucks from the river, and timber is locally cut. Only the roof is bought in the nearby town of Mae Sot. We have good experience with insulated tin roofs and have chosen that for this project as well.

Pictures

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