Gyaw Gyaw is Karen language, and means slowly, step by step. If we attach the word forward, this reflects our philosophy about a gentle and sustainable improve­ment of knowledge, with focus on architecture and functionality. Since 2009 we have been building social buildings for and together with the local migrant community along the Thai/Burma border.

For us, sustainability is the base. We try to implement processes and results that are sustainable in terms of ecology, economy and culture.

We strive to use materials and solutions that do not harm the environment. By using local renewable building materials, we minimize transportation emissions. We try to reduce the use of concrete, using local substitutes where it is possible. For us, this is sustainability in terms of ecology.

By using low-tech means of production, and people instead of ma­chines, we provide much needed jobs to the local community. Our buildings are easy to maintain, and since almost all materials are local and inexpensive, the future users can easily replace parts and maintain the building at a low cost. Minimizing long-term running costs of a building is vital for a long-term success. For us this is economical sustainability.

From an architectural point of view, it is important that the projects are well-ad­justed to the landscape, and that it is built in accordance with local traditions. This ensures cultural acceptance within the community. By using a local technique of plaited bamboo for walls, doors and windows, we empower, promote and encourage local traditions and heritage.

Development is sometimes mistaken for change. We do not want to change the way people live, nor the way people use the social spaces. With long-term commitment of our organization within the commu­nity has taught us how people live their lives, and our projects are adapted to this way of living, and not the other way around. Our projects are adapted to the local way of life, to preserve and maintain cultural identity. For us this is cultural sustainability.

The use of local labor on the building site ensures a feeling of ownership of the project, and the involvement of the users in the planning and design process, seek­ing consensus solutions, affirms empowerment of the local communities. We see this as small-scale democracy in practice. To promote and encourage transfer of knowledge, inclusion and participation in the whole process is not only inevitable to secure understanding and long-term success, but it is also a goal in itself.

We want to make good exam­ples worth following for locals as well as other NGOs. This also includes focus on functionality and implementation of new techniques that often results in less use of materials, and buildings that better answers the needs of the users.

By building schools and houses that benefit the local population, children and youth in particular, we seek to take small steps of development to the local sphere. Contributing to people’s own development is our goal.

In Gyaw Gyaw different religious views are represented, the team members have different backgrounds, and there is a wide variation in knowledge and skills. We have a mutual respect for our differences, and our differences are our main strength. We all have a shared pride in what this team represents and what we have achieved.