Northern Rakhine School Complete Project Report


Exisiting School in Rakhine Rakhine-2

When a massive cyclone swept across Burma, the Southeast Asian country also known as Myanmar, in October 2010, bringing with it high winds, torrential rain and flooding, the small, rural village of Seik Tara found itself in the path of destruction.

Located in the impoverished northern part of Rakhine State, the village had one primary school operating at the time, serving about 600 students in Kindergarten through 9th grade. When the storm cleared, residents found the doors to the school blown off their hinges, the windows shattered in, and desks, tables, chairs and school supplies bobbing in the floodwaters that remained.

But out of destruction comes new life, out of ruin comes creation. In the aftermath of the cyclone, Within Arms Reach partnered with the design community and local businesses in Southern California to raise funds develop architectural drawings and ultimately construct a brand new school for the students in Seik Tara Village.

Design and Fundraising Process

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The Myanmar Charity Group, a nonprofit based in Costa Mesa, California, that first brought the project in Seik Tara to the attention of Within Arms Reach, covered half the building and supply costs. Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based design firm Ottolia & Barnes Architecture partnered to contribute architectural drawings.

The five main project goals were collaboratively established between Within Arms Reach, Myanmar Charity Group, and residents and students in the local community:

• Create a classroom that inspires curious learners
• Utilize local materials and passive energy strategies in order to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible
• Implement and encourage safe building practices
• Hire local builders to generate job opportunities
• Involve the locals and the children in the building process to give them a price of ownership and independence

In October 2011, Within Arms Reach hosted “Education Within Arms Reach,” the organization’s first fundraising gala, and received generous donations to cover project costs from the following sponsors: IA Interior Architects, Beyond Burma, G. Swar Photography, Lisa Kristine Photography, Michael Burr Photography, Coffee Monster Studios Artwork, D Fox Studio, Holiday Inn Hotels, Embassy Hotels, All Pro Health Center, South Bay Fit Camp, SoCal Burmese Association, NetMAA, Wokcano, Half Blonde, Joe Jewell’s Jazz Band, Sunset Flying, Heli High-Mark C.W Robinson, Ottolia & Barnes Architecture, Myanmar Charity Group, Versant Vineyards, Mary Kay-Keiko Nakao, DuSome Productions, Creative Memories, Krystal Chen, Accurate Accounting.

The Journey – Site Analysis

In January 2012, Within Arms Reach’s Founder, Chief Education Officer and Design Director Sundie Zin Samia and the head of the Myanmar Charity Group, Hanthi Oo, personally traveled to Seik Tara to continue the project research and site analysis.

The arduous and dangerous journey included taking a small plane from Yangon, the social and cultural capital of Burma, to Rakhine State. A boat trip across the Bay of Bengal followed, and after dealing with a stalled engine in open ocean water that left them stranded for overnight, Samia and Oo finally reached the remote village.

Because Seik Tara is so isolated and cut off from the cultural and commercial hubs of Burma, building materials had to be imported at higher-than-normal costs, but residents of the village chipped in to help transport the supplies by land and water.

During this trip, the villagers of Seik Tara, in partnership with Within Arms Reach and Myanmar Charity Group, began to lay the foundation for the school. By the end of June 2012, the new educational facility was completed and ready to open. Built with the immediate needs of the local community in mind, the school (which serves as a kind of community center) incorporates sustainable design practices that are both culturally and environmentally native to the area.

Mission Success

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As evidenced by Within Arms Reach’s work in Seik Tara village, the organization’s mission emphasizes cultural sensitivity and building community connections. By involving village residents and school students in every step of the design and building process, including employing local contractors, Within Arms Reach is able to ensure that all projects remain sustainable for generations to come.

“We work together hand in hand teaching each other something new,” Samia says of Within Arms Reach’s partnerships. “We teach our clients how to build their facilities so that if there is another natural disaster, the building will be able to withstand it while sustaining their culture. Moreover, we involve the local community (even the children) in the building process to give them a sense of pride and ownership.”

This emphasis on community involvement not only provided job opportunities for the local villagers, but also showed the school students that their opinions and voices matter.

Continuing Needs

In the coming years, Within Arms Reach hopes to partner with other organizations in order to implement additional educational programs for the children of Seik Tara. Additionally, plans are in the works to develop a sport field and other recreational opportunities for the schoolchildren and residents of the village.

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“When individuals in these communities get educated,” Samia says, “that education changes their lives. Education gives a window, an opportunity, to anybody who is living in this world. So the question is not ‘why education,’ but how do you educate individuals, because education is the answer.”

Project Details

PROJECT NAME: Northern Rakhine School
LOCAL ORGANIZATION: Myanmar Charity Group
PARTNER: Myanmar Charity Group
CONSTRUCTION: Hla Aung Tin & Rakhine Contractors
CURRENT PHASE: Construction complete
SIZE: 900 sq.ft
COST: $16300.00 USD (Estimated)
DATE: January – April 2012
PICTURES: Sundie Zin & Han Thi Oo
ARCHITECTS: Dorothy & Domingo Ottolia in collaboration with Within Arms Reach Design Team

If you would like to support the students for their education and the programs Within Arms Reach provides, please contact for more information. To view more images, please visit Completed Projects.

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Within Arms Reach is made up of enthusiastic individuals giving their time, energy, love, and life away to make a difference in the world.

We always operate on a firm budget, with very few staff and hundreds of resilient volunteers. Our primary budgets are simply designed to fund the projects.
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