One of the most talked about topics in ICT4D today is the Mahawilachchiya project. A joint venture by Horizon Lanka and ICTA, it is slated to be the first model e-village in Sri Lanka. The village which doesn’t even have fixed telephone coverage, is connected to the Internet, 24/7, by a wireless mesh technology. The decentralized and relatively inexpensive mesh happens to be the first wireless outdoor network to be implemented in Sri Lanka.
So far Horizon Lanka has helped to furnish over 30 homes with used desktop computers which the villages help themselves to access the Internet. One of the immediate outcomes is that the children have started browsing for information to help them with their studies and have started using VoIP.
The older generation has started reading Sinhala and Tamil newspapers. (There are some interesting videos on you tube composed by the children – visit youtube.com and search for Mahavilachchiya)
When the project was first proposed in December 2004, the project objectives included an E-channelling and hospital connection, facilitating the search of employment opportunities, community chat, connectivity between institutions and people, and even an online market for whole sale buyers.
Therefore, in spite the great leap taken forward in implementing this rural e-village (and acknowledging it all the way), Mahawilachchiya still has a long way to go. And if it’s going to sustain after consuming the given grants, then villages need to be given a better reason to access the internet than just browsing information and reading the news.
The most important facet to realize is that Mahawilachchiya cannot hold by itself. The Internet has an impact of the quality of life only when it’s backed up by services directly related to the villagers well being. Government services have to be accessible via the Internet, people related to the village have to be connected and contactable via the Internet and similar peer communities should be brought up simultaneously so that the villages don’t feel alienated inside the web.
From language issues to IT awareness, it’s not an easy task to initiate an e-village from scratch. Good will and infra-structure is an excellent starting point for now, and Horizon Lanka’s past efforts in providing education for the children in Mahawilachchiya in an unconventional way must have been an inspirational factor in convincing the villages to embrace the new change as well.
But in terms of e-governance, e-services and e-community the rest of the country is far behind and desperately needs to keep up, otherwise the efforts in Mahawilachchiya would be in vain.