The Learning Village: with the Karen Community

by WeCreate Studio

The Teewado Community, a Karen hill tribe, resides along the borders of Thailand and Myanmar. With a belief that education is the platform to get their next generation out of their current cycle of poverty, the community approached WeCreate Studio to build a new primary school, to replace the existing dilapidated one, in 2017. Through the community engagement design process, it was made aware that the school building is just a shell without proper access to a good learning system. As such, a more wholistic support was developed for the Teewado Community, in collaboration with multiple expertise, with the completed school as the common ground, to provide skillsets training for the local youths, teacher’s training programs, sustainable farming systems and scholarship opportunities for the current students. The design process became the mean to implement effective solutions to empower the community in stepping out of their current own struggles.

Project Description

The Learning Village project comprises of 2 phases of works, to be developed and implemented over a period of 6 years. The objective of the project is to provide the resources and means, through collaboration with interested expertise around the world, to empower the Teewado Community towards self-dependence and establish the good foundation for their next generation. This is especially important for this community, as a new international border transit between Thailand and Myanmar, near the village, is in the pipeline. The opening of this border transit, will mean an influx of both opportunities and threats from the sudden trades and tourism. It is as such, quintessential to prepare Teewado and nearby communities, the awareness and resources to turn the threats to more sensible and sustainable development.

Phase 1 includes the design engagement process with the community to gain deeper understanding of the community needs and the eventual construction of the new Teewado Primary School. The new school comprises of 6 new classrooms, 1 library, and 4 new toilets, in a naturally ventilated concrete and steel structures. The deliberate choice of concrete and steel for the main structures were due to the feedback that the community would prefer a building with long lifespan, as they would not have the means to repair or rebuilt a new school in the future. The rest of the wall infills are locally sourced bricks and bamboo, which the community have the means to maintain after the project is completed. 3 of the classrooms can also be combined to form a sheltered community hall to hold community meetings, ­­­facilitate health care and vaccination programmes, as well as skillsets training centre for the Phase 2 works.

Phase 2 establishes the ‘software’ of the school with skillsets training, such as mechanical repair and basic carpentry skills for the local youths, teacher’s training programs, sustainable farming systems and scholarship opportunities for the current students. All these programmes established were proposed by the community themselves through multiple conversations and WeCreate Studio facilitate the budget and resources to provide them the opportunities.

For more information, visit the physical exhibition at library@orchard during Singapore Archifest 2020, and visit Teewado School Facebook page.


01 - We only employ local craftsmen for the construction of the school. The entire community (including the children!) all chips in with the non-skilled work, such as collecting river rocks for aggregates, river sand for the concrete mix and bamboos for the floor mesh. 02 - All the construction materials are locally sourced, and selected with factors of longevity and ease of maintenance, in mind. 03 - The combined classrooms doubling up as communal hall became such a cooling place to gather for the school opening day, amidst the hot weather outside. Our friends from Cuore Per Un Sorriso (Heart for a Smile) from Italy, came over to have a laugh with the children. 04 - The completed school foyer doubled up well as a venue for the regular Eye Care Programme. 05 - The completed school in the foreground, with the old school building in the background. The old school building will be refurbished as a workshop space for the Phase 2 works. 06 - Regular discussions are held with the Teewado community to discuss the programmes and plans for the Phase 2 works, including this discussion with Ar. Trecia Lim in the design of the Permaculture farm, within the school vicinity. 07 - We recognised that the teachers are the first group of the community we need to work with, in building their expertise in the Phase 2 works. Here, in collaboration with, a design studio based in Yangon and Singapore, discussions and interviews with the current teachers and interested parents were conducted, to better understand the strength and weaknesses in the current teaching system, in order to better establish a set of training programme for the teachers.

Find out more about WeCreate Studio here