BaanGerda is adjacent to the Thammarak Foundation, an organization run by a famous monk who graciously made two hectares available to our community. Our village is built around a large building, called the “Kinderstern”, which is used for events encompassing all residents. It also serves as a reception center for guests and other events. There are ten family buildings, an infirmary, a guesthouse, an administrative building, and an activities building.
All of our houses are planned to have very high roofs, louvered gable ends and no ceilings. This ensures very good ventilation, but little privacy. If funds allow, we would now favor using a more expensive roofing material (terracotta) instead of asbestos, to absorb less heat and thus allowing us to put in ceilings for enhanced privacy, without the rooms getting too hot. In an environment with vulnerable children and lots of germs it is important to ensure ventilation is prioritized. Each house is surrounded by a low-level fence that provides privacy and creates a homely atmosphere with a garden, which each household tends themselves.
We chose to have cement floors instead of tiles, using the logic of the many doctors who advised us that it is very difficult to clean between tiles thoroughly. In hindsight concrete is a poor alternative owing to its absorbency, thus it too is impossible to keep hygienic. In fact we should have chosen to use tiles or to lay linoleum over the concrete. Like most Thai houses in areas liable to flooding our houses are built on stilts. Initially we made these stilts quite short to avoid the area under the house being untidy. We now understand that it can be a valuable source of shade and a cool breezy area for children to play in. In the future, all new houses will have stilts of 2.4 meters high.
The Kinderstern is central to BaanGerda and is a multi-function building. It has been vital to the development of the project and one of its most important roles is a reception area, helping to avoid our many visitors traipsing through the family houses. Having a central communal area allows each family to have some autonomy without any one household holding too much power (which had previously been a big problem). Children can eat once a day in the dining area and twice a day at home thus feeling part of both a family and a community. Each mother works in the kitchen assisting the head cook on a rota basis. Events and activities with visitors always take place in the communal area.
When we began building BaanGerda, we did not know that ARV was going to be available to us. We envisaged far more critically ill children who would need to be cared for on-site. Thankfully, we never had to use the three buildings we built as clinics for their intended purpose — to care for dying children. But the lesson to us has been the importance of flexibility of design. We now only need to use one as a clinic for children with extensive clinical needs. Instead, now we care for sick children in their family home as much as possible; those in a critical condition are treated either in the district hospital or in Bangkok, accompanied by one of our experienced carers.
BaanGerda is in a former swamp area and in the wet season is prone to be flooded necessitating that houses are built on stilts to minimize flooding damage. The many ponds reflect a very high water table. All drinking water is secured from other sources.