Going Beyond Horizons: A CHANCE: To be on the information highway- The Hindu – May 12, 2006

Noindra Niranjani and Lahiru Welagedara
Noindra Niranjani and Lahiru Welagedara
Noindra Niranjani and Lahiru Welagedara

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.

Upcoming projects

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.


Sri Lanka Plans to Test the Limits of Smart Digital Mesh Boxes – LBO (Lanka Business Online) May 04, 2006

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga at meh inauguration in Mahawilachchiya
Mr. Lalith Weeratunga at meh inauguration in Mahawilachchiya
Mr. Lalith Weeratunga at mesh inauguration in Mahawilachchiya

Sri Lanka plans to test the limits of smart digital mesh boxes to connect 30 rural homes onto the World Wide Web, officials said.

Costing just under 30,000 dollars, this pilot project is initiated by the ICTA – the government’s key IT agency – is due to kick off in July, giving free internet access to children in the village of Mahavilachchiya, 50 kilometeres off Anuradhapura.

ICTA is partnering with Enterprise Technology (Pvt.) Ltd, a local firm, to deploy the project, while non-profit organization Horizon Lanka Institute has chipped in with 30 computers.

Mesh networking consists a series of smart digital devices called routers or ‘Meshboxes’, which use infrared or radio waves, to carry high speed wireless connection over a wide area.

This type of networking is unique, and is currently being used by local financial institutions like banks to transfer data between branches.

Instead of having a central server – which decides how data is passed between computers –the mesh creates a system which can be shared with every computer connected to the network, allowing individual computers to communicate with each other.

It can grow organically and will automatically organize itself.

The ad hoc nature of the mesh makes it easy to start small and expand where necessary, without the complex reprogramming involved with adding to a traditional, top-down network.

If one node were to fail, the network will automatically redirect data through an alternative route.

According to Radley Dissanayake, Program Manager at ICTA – the government’s key IT agency – Mesh is the most suitable architecture to connect rural hamlets.

However, experience shows that this is the most expensive architecture in network environment.

Mahavilachchiya’s geographical location, makes it mandatory to connect household computers through a wireless connection, explains Viranga Jayartne, Network Engineer at Enterprise Technology.

Horizon, which uses a lease line, will act as the main access point for internet connectivity.

But in a similar environment, once can use a powerful broadcasting antenna by making Horizon Lanka as the Hub and use a wireless network, making the network cheaper.

The use of radiowave frequency also requires approval from the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC).

Viranga Jayaratne says they have been waiting for nearly a year for TRCs approval.

The original project is also likely to expand as Horizon Lanka has donated a further 20 computers to Mahavilachchiya.