Gyaw Gyaw is a community development nonprofit operating at the border between Myanmar and Thailand. It was cofounded by Norwegian landscape architect Line Ramstad and villagers from the remote Karen village of Noh Bo in 2008. Ramstad had first visited Noh Bo as part of short term architectural project, but when the project was finished, she decided to stay and began to work in partnership with local villagers – a collective that would eventually become Gyaw Gyaw.
While concentrated on the border, the Karen people have existed in a form of statelessness for decades. Suffering oppression and violence from the Burmese government, they feel south to the Thai border. Though the Karen people can claim refugee status in Thailand, they have no rights and face the constant threat of arrest and return to Myanmar. Because of discrimination, educational opportunities and paid work are hard to find.
Gyaw Gyaw seeks to empower the vulnerable Karen community by constructing resilient schools and houses that introduce low cost, sustainable building techniques, and are facilitated by community input that ensures designs are adapted to the customs and culture of each village.
The name Gyaw Gyaw means “slowly, step by step” in the Karen language. Ramstad didn’t start the organization with a set vision, nor did she have a particular building style in mind. Gyaw Gyaw’s development has been rather organic, governed by a few general principles: source locally, involvement everyone, take it step by step. In contrast to the typical concrete buildings built by large NGOs, their work promotes a combination of both traditional and contemporary building methods. This design choice is intended to show viable alternatives to the NGO model, both physically and socially. By creating the knowledge, materials and tools for Karen villagers to make their own buildings, Gyaw Gyaw has developed a program that reduces dependency on foreign aid and allows a stateless people to put down their own roots.
We had an opportunity to have an extended conversation with Line on August 3, 2017 and August 10, 2017. Have a listen and find out more about Gyaw Gyaw!