I find it hard to describe my experience with Horizon Academy, Tantirimale because of all the different emotions I had. I have volunteered before in the Czech Republic and Poland, but this was my best experience so far. Before coming to Sri Lanka I would never have thought that I would leave with the feeling of having a Sri Lankan family to come back to visit after my wonderful experience with my family while volunteering.
We had planned to stay a week and by the end of the week we wanted to stay longer. From the first moment of meeting our host family I felt so welcomed and part of their family. Our family was great, they provided us with delicious meals, and we had so much fun with them. We played games together, learned about each other cultures and overall enjoyed each other’s company. Sandali the little girl in the family was so clever and she always wanted to play and improve her English. I think she will continue to get better and better. We will miss our Sri Lankan family and I wish them all the best in the future.
During our time volunteering with Horizon we worked at the local school in the village in the morning and at the Horizon Academy in the afternoon. We started our classes at the local school around 10 a.m. and finished at lunch time. The classes at Horizon Academy were usually from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The children are great and are very nice to teach. They have lots of potential and they are very eager to improve their English, so I think they will continue to improve in the future. Sunanda the manager at Horizon was very welcoming and helped us with any problems we had. He helped us with our host family, gave us a ride to and from school and gave us information about the area.
The area is very beautiful and I think anyone who decides to come here will not regret their decision. We found the area very relaxing and a great place to experience the countryside of Sri Lanka. We had lots of free time to visit the local sites and the people in the area are so friendly and will always greet you with a big smile and a wave. Anuradhapura is not far away and takes about one hour on the local bus. The buses go fairly often during the day so you could visit there on your days off.
Sri Lanka is a great place to visit we really enjoyed Colombo and Anuradhapura before we started our volunteering with Horizon. I hope the rest of Sri Lanka will be as good.
I would like to thank Horizon for accepting me on this program and I wish them continued success in the future. I think the work they are doing is so important and if you are lucky enough to join them at some stage I think you will have a wonderful experience. I hope I can come back some day and do it all again.
John Stephen Connolly – Ireland (Volunteered in May 2017)
Volunteering with Horizon Academy, Tantirimale was such a unique experience and I’m so glad that I did it. We spent time at the public schools as well as the Academy and found the students so engaging and sweet. They were quick to laugh and smile, and generally lovely students that wanted to learn. Upon meeting us they would be shy, but this lasted only a few minutes until they broke into big smiles and started talking or playing with us. At the public school, there were often large classes with a range of abilities, so it was important to be creative and fun to keep the children’s attentions. There was only one English teacher for the whole school, so doing a few lessons here and there helped him, and helped the students practice their speech with a native speaker.
The Horizon Academy – Tantirimale was more structured with smaller classes. The students would come about once a week for around 2 hours. Each class was divided into Computer Class and English Class. Children in the surrounding villages have limited access to computers, so Computer Class is an important part of the program. Some students were quick to learn or already had some knowledge, while others were still learning how to use the mouse properly and select colors. Once again, they were eager to learn though and worked together in pairs or group to complete tasks set by myself or my husband. After Computer Class, we would do different English activities depending on the age and ability of the class. Once they got past their shyness, they got really involved in the games and spoke with us as much as they could. Supplies are minimal at the moment, so again it’s imperative that you are creative and fun to keep them interested and excited. Saying that, the students are so sweet it’s easy just to hang out with them and have fun.
Living with a local family is another aspect of the experience that makes it so unique. The family we stayed with were wonderful and truly made us part of their family. Even with little language between us, we were able to form a bond with them and get to understand their village and lifestyle. They were eager to learn from us but also show us about their culture which made it feel like I genuine exchange of ideas. In the village we stayed, there had not been foreigners before, so there was a lot of interest from neighbors. Often you’d find yourself sitting in a chair reading or eating being watched by a few people. It may sound uncomfortable, but they are just excited and curious. Over time they get used to you, but they’ll still give you big smile and possibly offer you food or drink. Village life is very quiet and can be far from other shops so it’s good to be aware of this beforehand. I really loved my family and it was really sad to leave them but I know I’ll always have a Sri Lankan family now.
Anne Marie Connolly – The United States of America (Volunteered in May 2017)
Mr. Feizal Samath is a singer and a guitarist. His passion is country music. He organizes a Country Roads Concert for Children annually through the Country Music Foundation he founded. This year’s concert was the 29th version of his untiring efforts. The concert was held on March 19, 2017 at Mount Lavinia Hotel with the participation of both local and overseas country musicians before a big crowd of country music fans.
The Foundation had decided to donate a portion of the funds collected at the event to Horizon Lanka Foundation. The rest of the funds would be donated to other children-in-need island-wide.
As promised, Mr. Samath visited Horizon Lanka today (May 14, 2017) with 5 Dialog Winpad tabs for us. We were very happy to see the tabs and we were glued to the tabs as soon as they got them. The children will master these computers in no time. The tabs are very easy to handle and can be connected to the Internet though a sim card. These are the features of this model.
1GB Free Data for 3 months & Free Carry Pouch
Intel baytrail T 3735F – 1.83GHz Quad Core
Microsoft Windows 10 (Microsoft Office included)
External microSD, up to 32 GB, 2GB LPDDR 3 RAM
We thank Mr. Samath and the Country Music Foundation for this generous donation. We will use these computers the best way and help other children also how to use the computers.
Please click these links for more information about the Country Roads Concert for Children.
Mr. Johann De Cruz of Tiqri, Colombo, Sri Lanka is known to Horizon Lanka since some time. Tiqri is involved in a new program called “Coding for Children.” They do it with the Norwegian government. Mr. Tjerand Silde, a computer programmer from Norway visited Sri Lanka in February, 2017. He visited Horizon Lanka on February 02, 2017. He did a wonderful workshop for our students till the late into the night. He brought a micro:bit unit and did a demonstration as how to use it.
He used Scratch to teach programming to us. It is a good tool for understanding the logic of programming. He also taught HTML to make web pages. In Norway, their projects can be accessed at www.oppgaver.kidsakoder.no. There are communities in Sri Lanka like this now. Visit http://www.microbitslug.com. They even have a Sinhala microbit editor https://pxt.microbit.org/beta?livelang=si-LK
Here is a list of great resources for learning how to code:
At studio.code.org there is a lot of interactive projects designed for beginners. All of them are online, but some of them are also available for downloading and installing offline as well. For example:
Towards the end of the last year, a former volunteer at Horizon Lanka, Mr. Zachary Grenzowski came up with this novel idea of holding a competition for the best video clip by a Horizon Lanka student. So, the students were very keen on creating video content with the help of the then volunteers of Horizon Lanka to create the most creative video. At the end of a stiff competition, Tharani Madhara Rathnayaka, a female student from Grade 8 won a brand new 4G smart phone as her coveted prize. This is what Tharani had to say after winning the prize.
“There was a video competition held by Horizon Lanka. I was very much interested in taking part in it. Miss Bára Molnárová, a volunteer from the Czech Republic was volunteering at Horizon Lanka last year. She stayed with me in my home. She helped me to write a script and organize it in proper way. Working with Bara was an amazing experience. She motivated me to create my video story. Bara gave me full freedom to use her camera phone for the videoing. It gave me lot of pleasure to use her Apple iPhone. It was the first time I used an iPhone. My parents and brother also allowed me to go with Bara cycling around the village to see to reservoirs, streams, rice fields, chena farms, etc. to create my video. So, I could create an authentic video with natural beauty in my village. I edited the video myself with Windows Moviemaker software with others’ help.
At last Zach, the organizer of the video competition selected me as the winner. The main reasons for him to select me were the authenticity and the rich natural scenes in my video. According to Zach, I had a stiff competition from Aruni, Sachini and Oshda. I am very happy that I could beat all of them. I was very happy to receive my gift of Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime 4G smart phone. I use my phone to help Pramodhya, my friend at Horizon Lanka to create a web page about her talents. I use my phone for educational purposes. I also improve my English and ICT knowledge with it. Many in the village, especially adults, think using phones is harmful. But I use the phone with responsibility. Thank you very much for all who helped me to create my video clip and who watched it.”
Mr. Mark McDougall from the United Kingdom volunteered two weeks in March 2017 at Horizon Lanka. Though his stay was comparatively shorter, he did a lot for the organization especially with his great writing skills.
Volunteering at Horizon Lanka – Mark McDougall
My time spent volunteering at Horizon Lanka and living in Mahawilachchiya has been one of the most unique and rewarding experiences that I have been part of, throughout my entire journey around Asia. I have found Horizon Lanka to be a key aspect in the lives of many of the children in Mahawilachchiya. It gives the children a platform to learn, that is completely different from the environment in which they learn in their public schools, with a real focus put upon computer skills, improving their English and expressing themselves through singing and dancing. The children seem to really enjoy having Horizon Lanka as a place where they can socialize with both their friends and volunteers from around the world, as well as improving their IT and English skills which will hopefully help to further their prospects in both the job market and in society after they finish their education. Nanda works incredibly hard to create an environment where the children and volunteers are comfortable. I have particularly enjoyed helping the children with their spoken English, mainly through simply having conversations with them and discovering what their interests are as people. The children are energetic, warm and friendly people who engage fully in all that they do; be it learning new things, playing sports like cricket and volleyball or expressing themselves through music and dance (which many of the children are extremely passionate about).
The people of Mahawilachchiya are some of the most caring and generous people that I have ever met! While cycling or walking around the village and surrounding areas I have been constantly acknowledged by a waving hand or smiling face and have really felt welcomed into this rural community. Wasantha has been like a guide to me, introducing me to so many lovely people throughout the village. I have been invited into countless houses for tea or food and to chat, a show of generosity that has really touched me as I don’t believe there are many places in the world where a stranger will be treated as warmly and to be made to feel as at home, as I have in Mahawilachchiya. The community here is truly one built around a philosophy of ‘sharing is caring’, as everyone so readily shares whatever they have and no one goes without. This includes animals as well as people, as any ‘waste’ food is dispersed to the various birds and animals that inhabit the area. The concept of greed doesn’t appear to have been introduced to Mahawilachchiya, as people only take what they need, nothing more. Coming from a country where it is much more uncommon for someone to show an act of kindness to a complete stranger, it has been very beautiful for me to witness and be a part of.
As well as introducing me to multiple friends and families around the area, Wasantha has shown me various areas of natural beauty that I never would have discovered myself. This part of Sri Lanka has so much to offer to a nature lover. Some of my favorite places that I have been in Mahawilachchiya are; the lake (which is a great spot to swim and cool off) and the river side (where I was again made to feel completely welcome by the local women that stayed there) which is one of the most peaceful and serene spots I have ever been to just to relax with a book or watch the various birdlife or try to catch fish in the teeming river.
While volunteering with Horizon Lanka, I have been lucky enough to be hosted by Surendra and his family. They have strived at all times to make me feel like part of the family and to ensure that I am happy and well-fed! Surendra’s mother has provided me with some of the best food I have ever eaten; from delicious curries and rice to rotis and salads, all of the food has been delicious. It has been very interesting for me to see and eat food that is completely organic and natural, and to be able to see exactly where the food has come from. This family have completely opened their home to me and I can’t express enough how grateful I am for that. It has been really interesting and enjoyable for me to get to know all of the family (including Bruno the dog!) and to witness Sri Lankan family life.
Unfortunately, as I have visited Mahawilachchiya during the very busy exam period I have been unable to volunteer at a public school. However, this just gives me an even greater incentive to return to Mahawilachchiya and to combine volunteering at Horizon Lanka with volunteering at a local school.
After escaping the chaotic melting pot that is Colombo, the steady and tranquil pace of village life in Mahawilachchiya is a breath of fresh air. I wish that I had time to stay here for a longer period of time, unfortunately that isn’t possible for me right now. However, I definitely intend to return to this area and to volunteer with Horizon Lanka again and to see how everyone in the village is getting on. I think there are lots of people who would benefit from a similar experience as the one I have had in Mahawilachchiya and I know that future volunteers will have as great a time as I have.
Mark McDougall – The United Kingdom March 29, 2017
Pramodhya Umayangani is a charming girl who is friendly towards everyone at the Horizon Lanka Academy. Already, at the young age of 12, she has won a few medals for her outstanding performances in karate tournaments. Last year Pramodhya went to Kerala, India where she finished second among the competitors from five different nations, earning her a silver medal. This year she was invited to a karate championship in Mumbai , but was unable to take part due to the expenses required.
Pramodhya is the second daughter of three siblings. Her family lives in Mahawilachchiya where wild elephants are regular visitors to their farm. Each time they wander onto the farm they destroy the young coconut plants. Recent droughts caused her father to abandon the farmland and become a daily laborer in the city. Her mother Yamuna still finds time to tend to the farm even while looking after her one-year and half old baby boy.
Pramodhya is a talented dancer, equally strong in both traditional and free style dancing. Each time when Horizon Lanka organizes a farewell party for a foreign volunteer Pramodhya does her best performance, while her mother Yamuna looks after costumes and refreshments for the audience. Pramodhya also attends a traditional dancing class held three days each week at her house. They have a very good dancing team which performs in peraheras (cultural processions) festivals and other public events taking place in the village.
This Karate Kid is a regular student at Horizon Lanka. She is an intelligent and dedicated student that excels in her computers, English and dancing studies. She can be found working happily with her peers. She is an asset to Horizon Lanka as her family is extremely dedicated to Horizon and its mission.
Even with her all extracurricular activities, Pramodhya still records high marks in her public school term tests. She dreams of becoming a gymnastics teacher.
“I love dancing, martial arts and gymnastic so that I could keep my body fit and healthy,” says an excited Pramodhya. It would be great if you can help her realizing her dream.