The Horizon Lanka Foundation in Mahawilachchiya, Sri Lanka, has moved beyond teaching English to creating e-villages and more.
Mahawilachchiya is a village, situated in the north central province of Sri Lanka, bordering the Wilpattu wildlife statuary. The residents of this village are mostly into agriculture and education was not high priority.
Until 1998, when a few 10 to 15 year olds, and their English teacher Nanda Wanninayaka decided to institute the Horizon Lanka Foundation. What started out as an `after school’ club providing children further education in English and computers, has today expanded into areas of micro scholarships and has established the Horizon Lanka Academy.
Wanninayaka says, “We first started under the trees in my garden with 10 students. I could teach only English till we received a used computer from Mr. and Mrs Gaminitillake. Even the village bank didn’t have one at that time. From funds, land, PCs, lack of governmental recognition, every problem possible happened,” says Wanninayaka.
The children who were the founders, now 17 to 23 years old, are mostly doing their A Levels and O Levels and some are at university.
Today the project has moved on to creating e-villages. Over 160 students of the village have been equipped with computing skills, access to the Internet and PCs in their homes to improve their education specialising in ICT and English.
“By helping local families purchase computers through our Digital Butterflies project, more people, especially children, began to get familiar with the concepts of ICT.
Our computer training is focussed and now the children design and produce all Horizon Lanka Foundation related web sites,” says Wanninayaka.
Wanninayaka attributes their success to `shrewd thinking and planning’. “We experiment and risk a lot.
Unfortunately we still have a lot of problems like insufficient funds and equipment.” Opportunities offered by the BPO industry are being explored. This is significant as they hope to make Mahawilachchiya an IT park. “The Open World Institute of U.S. has offered several initiatives to ensure the future sustainability of the academy. Future plans include using foreign volunteers to develop English and IT skills in rural Sri Lanka, starting e-health and telemedicine projects, e-agriculture, a project to teach ICTs to armed forces in a productive way (if the ongoing peace process is successful, forces may need civil jobs in future) and e-mentoring using online experts around the world to create more learning opportunities for Sri Lankan children.
By PAROMITA PAIN