The First Model e-Village in Sri Lanka Paves the Way for 24-Hour Connectivity in Other Rural Communities – Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme – November 2006

Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya
Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya
Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya

Sri Lanka’s first outdoor wireless computer network is now up and running. Surprisingly, it is not in Colombo. It is not even in any of the other key places. It was installed in Mahawilachchiya, a little known village, 40 km from the nearest town Anuradhapura, and surrounded three sides by the Wilpattu jungle.

A student in the rural areas of Sri Lanka has to pay an average of Rs. 150 for 30 minutes as Internet surfing charges mainly because service is scarce in these areas. This amount does not include transportation costs and the time spent to reach the Internet café. High capital and operating costs have limited Internet access in rural Sri Lanka.

In 2005, the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka, Horizon Lanka Foundation and Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd was awarded a grant by the Pan Asia ICT R&D Grants Programme to develop a low-cost wireless broadband architecture for providing high-speed Internet access services in Mahavilachchiya, Sri Lanka.

On 4 November 2006, Mahavilachchiya, a little known village 40km from the nearest town of Anuradhapura and surrounded three sides by the Vilpattu jungle with no terrestrial or mobile phone networks, became the first village in Sri Lanka with 24-hour Internet access. Over 400 rural students also received ICT education as part of the project.

Mahavilachchiya now has more than 50 PCs and a sophisticated multimedia lab. The majority of the computers are located at the houses of the children attending the Horizon Lanka Academy. These PCs are now connected by using the “Mesh Wireless Technology”giving families direct Internet and email facilities.

Mesh networking comprises of a series of smart digital routers (Meshboxes) that are designed to carry high performance wireless Internet over a wide area using infrared or radio waves. Mesh networking is unique because instead of having a central server which determines how data is passed between computers, the mesh creates a network of equals, so individual computers find the best way to communicate with each other. All the computers are connected together to form a resilient network in such a way that the more devices there are on a network, the more routes there are through it. 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.

This unique project sends an important message to marginal communities all over the world. ICTA’s Programme Manager – eSociety Development Initiative, Chitranganie Mubarak commented, “Mahawilachchiya is an outstanding example of promoting inclusion through the use of ICTs. This latest project, which has given Internet access to poor rural families through a mesh network, will certainly be an impetus to other villages.”

At the launch of the e-Village, Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka and Chairman, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission commented that it is the government’s intention to launch similar projects in another 300 villages in remote areas of Sri Lanka.

In a related development on 16 November 2006 when Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse, President of Sri Lanka, delivered the annual budget speech in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, proposed to allocate USD 1 million in the year 2007 for the implementation of e-Villages replicating the Mahawilachchiya project. It is expected that international donors and private sector will make further contributions.

The ICT R&D Grants Programme is directed at encouraging original and innovative information and communications technology (ICT) solutions to development problems. Grants for suitable research and development (R&D) projects are awarded to Asia-Pacific-based organizations on a competitive basis.

It is a joint initiative of the United Nations Development Programme’s Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), of Canada, and the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC). The Programme is administered by the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) and is overseen by a Committee established by all Programme partners.

Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya
Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya

news-srilanka-evillage-2

Sri Lanka’s First e-Village Paves the Way for 24 Hour Internet Connectivity – i4D – November 27, 2006

Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya
Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya

Sri Lanka’s first outdoor wireless computer network has been installed in a small village named, Mahawilachchiya, 40 km far from the nearest town Anuradhapura.

Mahawilachchiya became the first village in Sri Lanka with 24-hour Internet access. Over 400 rural students will also receive ICT education as part of the project. Now the village has more than 50 PCs and a sophisticated multimedia lab. Most of the computers are located at the houses of the children attending the Horizon Lanka Academy. These PCs are connected by using Mesh Wireless Technology and providing direct Internet and e-mail facilities to the families of the village. Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka and Chairman, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, Lalith Weeratunga, told that government is planning to launch similar projects in another 30 villages of Sri Lanka during the launching of e-Village project. Students in the rural areas of Sri Lanka have to pay INR 150 for 30 minutes Internet surfing in Colombo. According to ICTA’s Programme Manager, e-Society Development Initiative, Chitranganie Mubarak, Mahawilachchiya is giving the best example for the use of ICTs, which will provide Internet access to poor rural families through mesh networking technology. The e-Village project is joint initiative programme of the United Nations Development Programme’s Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), of Canada, and the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC). The Programme is administered by the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) and is overseen by a Committee established by all Programme partners.

Lonely lives reconnected in Mahawilachchiya

Kumar reading a Tamil newspaper online
Kumar reading a Tamil newspaper online

Ranjith Gunarathne

Just after the opening of the mesh network in Mahawilachchiya, I went for a walk around the village. I wanted to visit the houses where they have got mesh network facility and see how the villagers are reacting to this revolutionary technology.

Ajith Balasuriya, a home guard attached to the local police post, a real computer geek and a very good digital photographer, accompanied me. For some reason, he took me first to Kumar’s house.

Kumar is a Tamil living in Mahawilachchiya. He was born and bred, and had his primary education in Kalatththewa, Anuradhapura. Later he came to Anuradhapura city where he had his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Anuradhapura. He had to give up education as he had to become the breadwinner of his family. He wanted to ensure that his brothers and sisters get a decent education and sacrificing his opportunities for the well-being of the others was the only option he had.

Guided probably by fate Kumar happened to come to Mahawilachchiya to work at a shop, there he met Mangalika, a beautiful Sinhala village girl, and it was love at first sight. They got married shortly afterwards. He settled down at Mahawilachchiya with Mangalika and continued to support his brothers and sisters from there.

Kumar’s elder sister migrated to United Kingdom with her husband after the Black July riots in 1983 and one by one, his whole family left the country after her. Kumar could not follow them because his wife was reluctant to leave the familiar surroundings of the village where she had lived since she was born.

Kumar missed his family, his childhood friends and many other things from his former life. But he could not leave his wife Mangalika, whom he loved dearly. So, for the last 30 odd years Kumar has been living in Mahawilachchiya.

Kumar and Mangalika had decided not to let their children speak Tamil as they were living in a Sinhala village and the kids were attending a Sinhala medium school. Therefore, their children do not speak a single word of Tamil, which is their “Father Tongue”. Mangalika understands a little Tamil, but they had never spoken to each other in that language in their life together. Kumar liked reading a lot and he used to read all the Tamil newspapers he could get hold of before coming to Mahawilachchiya. But now it was very difficult to find a Tamil newspaper in Mahawilachchiya. One has to go to Anuradhapura for that. Kumar could not afford to make this trip very often. So even very reluctantly, he had to say goodbye to his favourite pastime, reading newspapers.

Kumar was a loyal husband for his wife and a caring father for their six kids, the arrival of who had kept both him and his wife very busy. Nevertheless, there existed in his inner soul an inexplicable loneliness, a nameless void, tugging at his heart, all along those thirty odd long years, Kumar admitted while he was talking to me. Fidgeting with an unlighted cigarette in his hand, with a faraway look in his eyes, he said, “At first, my wife used to ask me why I looked so unhappy at times, why I sat for long hours just by myself. I said nothing because I did not know the answer for that question myself. I had no reason for being unhappy at all. God has sent me the most loving and caring wife in the world; and I have the most adorable kids… I had every reason to be much happier than most of our neighbors. In fact, I was asking the same question from myself, why did I feel lonely amidst such a loving family…?

Then he found the answer, or to be more accurate, the remedy, for his loneliness with the advent of the mesh.

His children, all of whom are students of Horizon Lanka Academy, were very excited about this great event. However, in his heart Kumar did not share the enthusiasm or the excitement that was seething in them. What is the use of this ‘mesh’ in a remote village like ours, he thought.

The very next day, his skeptical outlook towards ‘mesh’ changed; and so did his whole life. He was idly sipping a cup of tea, sitting close to his third daughter Krishanthi, who was browsing the internet. Suddenly Kumar jumped up shouting, “Wait, hold it there!” He had seen a web page written in Tamil, his mother tongue…!

This simple incident brought about one of the biggest changes in Kumar’s life.

“I had not known that you could read Tamil newspapers over the internet.” He explained to me. “I know that was really stupid of me, I mean, with my kids using internet almost everyday at the Horizon Lanka for the past two years… They never told me about it earlier, may be because I did not ask them…” He laughed. Yes, Kumar laughs very often now, a happy Mangalika told me.

Even without his consciously knowing it, what had been bothering Kumar over the last thirty years, was the separation from his mother tongue.

Now he can read all the Tamil news papers published in the country and he can read news in Tamil on many international websites. He can listen to Tamil webcasts. For this, he learned to use the computer very fast with the help of his children. “Our father learned the basics of operating a computer starting from using the mouse properly, web browsing and chatting amazingly fast.” One of his daughters Nirmala told me.

Furthermore, he can talk with his family using ‘Skype’. He can swap photos with them through email. He got re-united with his kith and kin after thirty years thanks to the ‘mesh’ technology…! He no longer feels that inner loneliness that was killing his soul. Isn’t this enough to call him “the happiest man in Mahawilachchiya…?”

National TV does a documentary on Horizon Lanka

Radhika Nilupulee Rajapaksha

Mr. Saddha Mangala Sooriyabandara of Rupavahini, the National TV of Sri Lanka visited Horizon Lanka about two months ago. He organized a program with the Horizon staff and the senior students. Then Mr. Sooriyabandara visited Horizon with a team to do a documentary on Horizon Lanka Foundation. That was an eight-member team consisting of the Director, Mr. Saddha Mangala Sooriyabandara, Assistant Director Mr. Palitha, cameraman, Mr. Wasantha, lighting technician, Mr. Hemantha, sound technician, Mr. Mohan, the assistants, Mr. Dhanushka, Mr. Roopasiri and their driver.

Producer Sadhdha Mangala Bandara
Producer Sadhdha Mangala Bandara
Filming on the water reservoir bund
Filming on the water reservoir bund

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first day was spent on checking the equipment and other initial preparations. They could do only that because it was evening when they arrived at Horizon Lanka. They organized the second day session with the staff and senior students of Horizon Lanka.

Filming in a ricefield
Filming in a ricefield
Filming in a ricefield
Filming in a ricefield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second day they all came to the Horizon in the morning and their program was to do a videos at Ruvini’s, Iresha’s and mine. So, we all got together and first we decided to go to the rice fields to video how we work in the rice fields. We worked in the rice fields as farmers. Then we came to my place and I explained to them the history of Horizon Lanka, how I work with my laptop, how I design websites and how I manage all these things while studying. Then we went to Iresha’s house and she also talked about what she does with her laptop and how the Horizon helps her. Next, Ruvini also explained how we got our laptops, and what we do with them.

Having lunch at Horizon Lanka
Having lunch at Horizon Lanka
Team relaxing during a break
Team relaxing during a break

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second day was a very enjoyable day because the first scene was videoed at the Mahawilachchiya tank. The scene was about how Horizon students travel by a cart with the brand-new laptops. Then they came to Horizon and the TV team wanted to record how the Horizon’s first batch of students learned English and computer skills. After that they wanted to know how we learn English by watching DVDs with English subtitles, how we do sports also and how we use the gym at Horizon. So, the team videoed these things as well. Second day was gone so nicely and we had then become very comfortable to work with the team.

Filming in the bazaar at Bogas Handiya
Filming in the bazaar at Bogas Handiya
Filming in the bazaar at Bogas Handiya
Filming in the bazaar at Bogas Handiya
Inside the computer lab
Inside the computer lab

Third day was the last day. Mr. Sooriyabandara and the team came to Horizon and they videoed the pre-school and how the lessons at Horizon Lanka Academy were conducted. In the evening the parents got together and it was a useful occasion for Mr. Saddha to video the parents’ comments. And then they wanted to have details about how Horizon students come to Horizon. Finally, they videoed how the computer lessons were conducted and how senior students helped these lessons. Mr. Wanninayaka, the Founder of the Horizon, too, did voice recording with them.

Finally, the National TV team said goodbye to us in the evening.

We would like to thank to Mr. Saddha Mangala Sooriyabandara and the team for doing a documentary about us. It will give a big publicity and I think the team opened us a way to peep into the future with better hopes. The program will be telecast soon and you all can watch what Horizon Lanka actually is.

“e-Villages”: The future of development – Financial Times – Daily Mirror – November 09, 2006

daily-mirror-logoThe Mesh Network Project in Mahawilachchiya, Anuradhapura was launched recently at the Horizon Lanka Foundation.

In January 2005, Horizon Lanka Foundation and Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) received a grant from the Pan Asia R&D Grants Program for the deployment of a community mesh network for 30 homes in the village of Mahavilachchiya. Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd (ETPL) was responsible for the implementation of the project.

Mesh networking consists of 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 used by local financial institutions such as banks to transfer data between their branches.

The Mahawilachchiya project signified the pilot project for ICTA’s e-Village concept. A small village in the North Central Province, with limited access to resources and few opportunities for its youth, benefited greatly through the introduction of ICT facilities. Through dedicated teachers, individuals and organizations working in partnership, the village youth were empowered with the knowledge and skills needed to access means for a better quality of life. As a result of these efforts the village secondary level students of the village are now being commissioned to design websites and currently earn more than their parents who are mostly farmers.

Establishing the Mahawilachchiya e-Village with its high density of computers marks a significant chapter in the ICT for development (ICT4D) field in the country. Over 400 rural students receive ICT education and it is the only rural Sri Lankan village with ICT connectivity 24 hours a day. This unique environment thus resounds an important message to marginal level communities all over the world. ICTA’s Programme Manager “eSociety Development Initiative, Chitranganie Mubarak commented, “Mahawilachchiya is an outstanding example of promoting inclusion through the use of ICTs. This latest project, which has given Internet access to poor rural families through a mesh network, will certainly be an impetus to other villages.”

Internet access is largely perceived as a way to reduce isolation, provide educational and economic opportunities, and ultimately improve the quality of life. Common challenges such as high capital and operating costs have limited rural access to ICTs to a handful of heavily subsidized and supported projects in Sri Lanka. This innovative integrated strategy, based on existing technology and rural social structures, addresses a variety of challenges and could ultimately aid large numbers of villagers to gain this vital access to information and knowledge.

Prof. V. K. Samaranayake, Chairman, ICTA said, “In keeping with His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s efforts to utilise technology to rapidly develop and empower rural communities, ICTA is keen on replicating this successful model in other villages across the country. Villages with limited resources and opportunities for their youth will be identified, and provided with ICT facilities for e-learning, e-commerce, and other services. ICTA will work in collaboration with partners to bring in a greater resource pool of expertise and services, to develop the village and allow for innovative social mobility amongst the members of the community. ICTA congratulates Horizon Lanka Foundation and its founder Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka for their continuous efforts in realizing the e-Sri Lanka vision.”

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga visiting houses and public schools in Mahawilachchiya

Mr Weeratunga in the village
Mr Weeratunga in the village

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga and the other guests who came for the mesh launching also visited few houses and the two public schools which were connected to the Internet. They were very happy to see how the villagers used Internet for day today activities.

WiFi signals are available around all 6 mesh towers
WiFi signals are available around all 6 mesh towers
At Duleeka's dad reading an online newspaper
At Duleeka’s dad reading an online newspaper
At Saliyamala Public School
At Saliyamala Public School
At Thakshila Public School
At Thakshila Public School

Mr. Wanni’s speech at mesh internet network launch

Nanda Wanninayaka
Nanda Wanninayaka

Dear Chief Guest, Mr. Lalith Weerathunga, the Chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and the Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka, all the guests from the President’s Office, officials from ICT Agency of Sri Lanka and Enterprise Technology Pvt Ltd. and Bartleet Group, personnel from police, army and home guards, friends, parents, villagers and the students.

We welcome you all to this historical event. Horizon Lanka Foundation has been creating history for the past 8 years and we are about to launch our latest innovation, the implementation of mesh technology, to provide internet access to 28 households and 2 public schools in Mahawilachchiya.

The non-availability of an internet connection for Horizon Lanka for 6 years could not hamper our growth. But when we were able to get internet from innovative LankaCom, the only Internet Service Provider who had the capability to provide us with Internet, we realized the amazing strength of it.

Thanks to Internet and emails, students started getting A grades for English and the learning process became very exciting and enjoyable for the students and the teaching process became much easier for the teachers. Our website www.horizonlanka.org could be regularly updated and it made our website one of the most visited Sri Lankan sites in the world.

Let me brief you how mesh became a reality. At an e Society exhibition held in Colombo in 2004, Mr Chanuka Wattegama and Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara sparkled the first flame for mesh. Having heard that Mahawilachchiya is the village with the highest computer density of, they suggested that mesh technology could be easily implemented in Mahawilachchiya. Miss Rehana Wijesinghe’s smart writing saw to the funding aspect, and UNDP and other funding agencies extended their support. We also thank Manju Haththotuwa, then CEO of ICTA for playing an active role in this project.

When everything was well set to start the project, the next hurdle was the problem of getting permission for the frequency. Licensing cost us a huge amount of money and if we have to renew the licenses for the next year too it will be a big blow to the project. We expect that the TRC would take actions to free this frequency enabling us to replicate mesh in other parts of Sri Lanka as well. I have learnt that this particular frequency is free in other countries.

Next big challenge was to increase the existing bandwidth 128 kilo bytes per second to cater to the needs of 30 internet connections. Bandwidth was not sufficient at all as all the students started sharing the same connection as soon as public schools were closed. We thank Lanka Com for increasing bandwidth up to 256 kilo bytes per second on our request even before the agreements were signed. LankaCom promptly increased the bandwdith to enable mesh to be proactive. We have to mention here that we would need at least 1 Mega bytes bandwidth for mesh network as mesh network is likely to expand up to around 100 PCs soon. In some of the students’ houses there are up to five PCs and they are already working on small networks inside their houses to enable Internet access to multiple users in the families. We also provided internet to two public schools and we will ensure both the schools expand their computer projects within the next few months. We have already been able to provide a brand new PCs and peripherals to Saliyamala Public School and we are trying to do the same with Thakshila Public School. We want to ensure that these two schools have computer labs each comprising of 25 PCs . Both the schools cater to about a 1000 students.

We also provided few PCs to Mahawilachchiya police station and the nearby police post. Hundreds of police officers and home guards learn computers fast and there is already a big demand for their PCs to be connected to mesh. So, we hope that ICT Agency will increase our bandwidth up to 1 Mega bytes to cater to this growing demand as they have always done in the past.

Our aim is to produce over a 1000 IT skilled youth from Mahawilachchiya within next three years so that we could use their technical know-how in the Business Process Outsourcing project we are going to start shortly. Hope the donors and well-wishers will help us by providing us PCs for this ambitious plan. Even used PCs are welcome.

In all our projects we always go the extra mile. We are doing a live webcast of this inauguration on an online radio station called Ahamu Online Radio. You can listen to live updates from Mahawilachchiya on www.ahamu.com. Two of our students, Ruvini Senevirathna and Ruwan Laksiri are doing the live program, and they hope to work with Ahamu Radio frequently from their homes by updating news from Mahawilachchiya in future too.

We partnered with ICT Agency of Sri Lanka to make Mahawilachchiya an e Village in 2005. We are almost there now with all the innovations coming up. Our next move is to start a BPO project here for the IT skilled youth to work. We are being backed by FARO and ICTA in this venture. But we still have a few barriers to overcome for this.

First challenge is road conditions in Mahawilachchiya. Road to Mahawilachchiya up to Oyamaduwa is excellent but from there onwards it is in a dilapidated condition. We hope His Excellency the President will help the village by repairing the road to Mahawilachchiya via Anuradhapura and Nochchiyagama. Not to mention the roads inside the village too. Our to-be-investors’ main worry was the road conditions here. We get visitors from both Colombo and overseas every week and they find it difficult to travel due to bad road conditions.

Next problem is frequently fluctuating electricity in Mahawilachchiya. We had a problem even this morning and were in a big trouble. Buying a generator would not be an answer as our operations are done at 30 places through mesh now. We need the government attention on this issue as well.

We also have the absence of a mobile phone network within the village but Dialog Telekom is said to be working on covering Mahawilachchiya soon on our request.

We have done what is humanly possible and even impossible for the future of Mahawilachchiya. Now it is the time for the government to play a bigger role in developing infrastructure in and around Mahawilachchiya. If the government helps us doing it, hope we can make Mahawilachchiya another Andra Pradesh or Bangalore using ICT. We also seek the help of the private sector for this.

Thank you,

Nandasiri Wanninayaka

The day we ‘meshed up’ Mahawilachchiya

Lalith Weeratunga

Lalith Weeratunga

Mr Wanni welcoming Mr Lalith Weerathunga
Mr Wanni welcoming Mr Lalith Weeratunga
Mr Weerathunga being welcomed by ETPL team
Mr Lalith Weeratunga being welcomed by ETPL team

 

 

 

 

 

 

A historical event took place today at Horizon Lanka Foundation at Mahawilachchiya. According to Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka, Horizon Lanka Foundation has been creating history for the past 8 years.

” The first ever mesh network sponsored by the Pan Asia R&D Grants Program through the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, was declared open by Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, the secretary to the President of Sri Lanka and the chairman of the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Regulatory Committee. Many distinguished guests, including Mr. Sunil C. Wijesinghe, Deputy Chairman Bartleet Group, Prianca Perera, a Director at Bartleet Group, Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara, Managing Director of Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd – the company who made this groundbreaking project a success – Mrs. Chitranganie Mubarak, Programme Manager – e-Society Development Initiative of ICTA and Mr. Chanuka Wattegama, a former veteran journalist in the field of ICT, graced the occasion.

Mr Lalith Weerathunga lighting the oil lamp
Mr Lalith Weeratunga lighting the oil lamp
Mr Wanni lighting the oil lamp
Mr Nanda Wanninayaka  lighting the oil lamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

In its press release on mesh inauguration, the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) stated, “The Mahawilachchiya e-Village with its high density of computers is a significant chapter in ICT development in the country. Over 400 rural students receive ICT education and it is the only rural Sri Lankan village with 24 hours internet connectivity. Secondary level students are now commissioned to design websites and are currently earning more than their parents who are mostly farmers. This is symbolic and a message for marginal level communities all over the world.”

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga began his eloquent speech, which mesmerized the audience, quoting from the book ‘Ignited Minds’, written by the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam,

“Dream, dream, dream…
Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action.’’

He was referring to the man who had a dream and who was tenacious and resilient enough not to give up or look back until he made his dreams come true. The man who really transformed his dreams into thoughts, which resulted in action that overwhelmed the whole nation; Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka, popularly known as ‘Wanni’, is the founder of Horizon Lanka Foundation. He is the man, according to Mr. Weeratunga, who ‘inspired the spirit within the children’ of the poor remote village Mahawilachchiya where he was born. He has worked hard for a long time together with the ‘inspired’ children and they have transformed Mahawilachchiya into the first e-village in the country. Mr. Weeratunga promised to do everything possible in his official capacities to help Horizon Lanka and Mahawilachchiya, and other similar projects. He resolutely stated, “Take my word I will certainly go into this thoroughly.”

Mr. Weeratunga, went on to quote again from the preface of this book he said he specially selected for this occasion from ‘the huge collection of books’ he has accumulated over time, “I have written this book as an expression of my faith in the potential of India, and my countrymen.” He called Abdul Kalam ‘a man who loved India’. Then he said, “Let me say this; that we have faith in the potential of Sri Lanka and our countrymen. You (Wanni) have exemplified this.” Aren’t these the words of a man who loves Sri Lanka? His words, “I was offered many times to live abroad, the latest was in 1998 but I never want to leave Sri Lanka. I want to make sure that this is a place that we can be proud of.” tell us how he loves Sri Lanka, the motherland of us all.

He said that he “could have never imagined this kind of thing ever happening in Mahawilachchiya”, which he first visited in 1977. “This is not what I saw at that time 30 years ago, it was quite different and I think now I see a totally different Mahawilachchiya; you (Wanni) have taken it to a realm which I could have never imagined, not even in my wildest dreams that I could have imagined Mahawilachchiya would be like this but you have taken it not through normal routes.”

“The usual development is we build the roads, we build the small irrigation channels, we build the business opportunities of people, we build the school, we build the hospital; that is the normal kind of development that you do. We have done this for the last fifty odd years. But where have we gone? There are places where there is good infrastructure but people have not developed. There are places like Mahawilachchiya where you do not have the infrastructure, but your people are highly developed.”

Mr. Weeratunga had a proposition to make to Wanni and his team, “I think what we see here today is replicable. I want to ask your help in the creation of at least 325 e-villages because we have 325 Divisional Secretaries Divisions in this country. So at least if we can select one village per division, I think Wanni can walk us through because you have gone through the whole mill.”

Mr. Weeratunga further speculated on the issue of creating e-villages, “I invited Wanni to spearhead this whole task. Also, let Horizon Lanka be the training ground for those 325 champions that we are going to find. But you could all be the champions of champions. We have a fantastic programme in Mahinda Chinthana called ‘Gama Neguma’, which is to ensure that the village is developed in the total sense. Had I known, or had Mr. Rajapaksa known about e-village concept we would have definitely put it in ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’, I am sure. Now that you have done it, it doesn’t have to be in that book but we can always copy, we can always work with you. I don’t want to do something different; I want to learn from you. And then do it the way it has come through. This is not top driven, this is bottom driven. That is why it is a success.”

Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara, Managing Director of ETPL, gave a presentation on mesh technology in which he described briefly but very clearly what mesh is, and the immense potential it can bring about in developing the rural life. Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd. is one of the premier Network Systems Integrators in Sri Lanka who provide ICT solutions for major Sri Lankan corporations and institutions. They recently started to focus on low cost networking solutions to rural areas.

ETPL, in a recent press release, called this “a pilot project, a model from which other rural villages can also benefit.” It also says that “the villagers in rural areas will be able to gain information and be knowledgeable to help stimulate economic growth by creating new products, increasing productivity and promoting new commercial and administrative methods. In addition to economic development, this connectivity would foster social development, cohesion and inclusion, through its applications in education, health and increased citizen participation in civil society and government.” (Read the complete press release.)

According to Mrs. Chitranganie Mubarak, Programme Manager – e-Society Development Initiative of ICTA “ICTA is always behind Horizon Lanka.” She also added, “We are very proud and this is a village we sight as a model to everybody else we talk to. We are thankful to Horizon Lanka because they are the ones who opened our eyes to what is possible at village level and we have taken it to other villages.” The ICTA had extended its helping hand to Horizon Lanka on many occasions. They are the ones who gave us the internet connection and Mrs. Mubarak happily announced that they had signed the contract doubling the bandwidth, up to 256 kbps, just the day before. And the Agency was behind us in the advanced training of our senior students.

“Just giving connectivity will not be enough. We know that people need to be helped in their capacities and we have taken Nirosh and Chamila, two people from the Horizon Lanka Academy, to India on a training program. Our vision is also that these villages to take that step to become a BPO business and we funded two of them, Isuru and Nirosh, in training travel to Laos and Delhi. That has again opened up a whole range of opportunities.”

Some students of Horizon Lanka Academy made a couple of presentations using the ICT skills they have acquired at the Academy , speaking in fluent English, which proved that they can compete with students from any big school in Colombo. Mr. Sunil C. Wijesinghe commented that ‘I wouldn’t see that kind of children in Colombo.’

They said in one of their presentations, “We believe that there should be an ICT culture in Mahawilachchiya… However, our knowledge in this area is still limited but we hope to improve it in the future. Horizon Lanka’s founder, Mr. Wanninayaka’s dream is to send one of the Horizon Lanka students to study at MIT in the United States. We also hope to start e-learning if someone can help us. We are helping ICT educational projects in Ampara and Monaragala now.”

They further added, “We don’t have a single mobile phone company covering Mahawilachchiya. Having listened to our request, Dialog Telekom provided mobile coverage within 50-meter radius around Horizon Lanka last year. They are going to cover the whole village soon…”

Wanni started his short but forceful speech by reminiscing how it all began, “At an e-Society exhibition held in Colombo in 2004, Mr. Chanuka Wattegama and Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara sparked the first flame for mesh. Having heard that Mahawilachchiya is the village with the highest computer density, they suggested that mesh technology could be easily implemented in Mahawilachchiya.”

Wanni said that the biggest hurdle they faced in the implementation of the Mesh was “The problem of getting permission for the frequency. Licensing cost us a huge amount of money. We expect that the TRC would take actions to free this frequency enabling us to replicate mesh in other parts of Sri Lanka as well. I have learnt that this particular frequency is free in other countries.”

He requested the ICTA to increase the bandwidth – as they have always done in the past in responding to the growing demand- at least up to 1Mb, to accommodate the expansion of the Mesh that will take place in immediate future, with the proposed addition of new computers to the 2 schools and the small home networks that students are building in their houses, which will result in a network of more than 100 computers.

Drawing the attention to the barriers Horizon Lanka still has to overcome in launching the BPO Project Wanni said, “Our to-be-investors’ main worry was the road conditions here. We get visitors every week and they find it difficult to travel due to bad road conditions. Then he expressed his hope that, “His Excellency the President will help the village by repairing the road to Mahawilachchiya via Anuradhapura and Nochchiyagama; not to mention the roads inside the village too.”

Speaking further about the problems Horizon Lanka has to face he said that we need government intervention about the frequently fluctuating electricity in the village too.

In conclusion Wanni, with the look of the same undefeated determination one can always see on his face, assured the audience that, “If the government, and also the private sector, help us we can make Mahawilachchiya another Andra Pradesh or Bangalore using ICT.”

Hansi Sumedha, a grade 10 student of Horizon Lanka Academy called the implementing a mesh network in Mahawilachchiya ‘our mammoth achievement’ in her vote of thanks.

The sponsors for the project are,

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP)
Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMICC)
International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC)
Internet Society,
Pan Asia Networking
Microsoft.

Partners who worked with Horizon Lanka to make this venture are the Telecom Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, the Information and Communication Technology Agency, the Asia Media Information Centre, and Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Limited.

Ranjith Gunarathne

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga speaking at the mesh Wi-Fi network launnch
Mr. Lalith Weeratunga speaking at the mesh Wi-Fi network launnch
Ms. Chiranganie Mubarak from the ICTA addressing the gathering.
Ms. Chiranganie Mubarak from the ICTA addressing the gathering.
Krishanthi Priyadarshani and Dinesh Pradeep doing a presentation at the event.
Krishanthi Priyadarshani and Dinesh Pradeep doing a presentation at the event.
Chanuka Wattegama, Nanda Wanninayaka and Mr. Lalith Weeratunga
Chanuka Wattegama, Nanda Wanninayaka and Mr. Lalith Weeratunga
Mr. Weeratunga at Saliymala School, Mahawilachchiya
Mr. Weeratunga at Saliymala School, Mahawilachchiya
A mesh internet tower in the village
A mesh internet tower in the village
Mr. Weeratung at Duleeka's house which was connected to mesh network
Mr. Weeratung at Duleeka’s house which was connected to mesh network
A house connected with mesh network
A house connected with mesh network