12. Nalika Gajaweera – The United States

Nalika Gajaweera

Balika at the Mahawilachchiya reservoir

Miss Nalika Gajaweera volunteered at Horizon Lanka in July, 2007.

“Nalika was referred to Horizon Lanka Foundation by her friend, Alisha who had already visited HLF. Nalika is a daughter of Sri Lankan expatriate parents and therefore, had native touch of English language. She had had all her education America and was reading for her Doctorate at the age of 28. It was on one of her research mission that she visited the HLF. She was a fun loving lovely young lady with a remarkable intelligence behind her. It was a marvelous experience for anybody to speak to her. She had adorable pleasant manners that attracted everybody around her. She was highly appreciated by students of all ages after the academic sessions she had with them. Everybody at HLF enjoyed her short stay. May her future go from strength to strength!” –Ranjith Pushpakumara, Former Head Master, Horizon Lanka Academy

Miss Nalika Gajaweera’s Expereinces in Mahawilachchiya – 1

It’s been my forth day in Mahawilachchiya and I’m just about getting used to the momentum and rhythm of things. I live with a family here who has graciously welcomed me to their humble home. Their three daughters are 7, 14 and 16 years old. Their father is a home-guard for the village and the mother is a housewife. Their grand parents live in an adjoining lot and they have a small kade built several years ago and it provides them with an added household income. I’ve been enjoying three full meals of delicious Sri Lankan food and also been able to experience traditional meals forgotten in the city.

The other day I played with the children, a good-old batta game reminding me of my childhood days playing in the yard with my cousins. At first when I arrived they were shy, but now they are beginning to come out of their shell. Play and games are always a good approach with children. The boys have promised me a game of cricket, in spite of me being a girl. Since arriving here on Monday, I have visited the village temple, the reservoir, and ridden a bike along the paddy fields (despite the concerns of Mr. Ananda who worries that I may fall straight into a paddy field).

The temple visit with the family, with two bicycles “going double” and a scooter in tow, reminded me of the significance of Poya in Sri Lanka. It’s not only a day of worship and reverence to the Lord Buddha, but it’s an occasion that brings the community and its families together. The thorana and the haunted house were big hits amongst both the young and the old. As I watched the crowd, I could see young men taking photographs of the humble spectacle with their camera phones.

My interaction with the senior Horizon Lanka students has been limited so far as they are taking their term tests this week. But I play and teach with the younger children between the age group of three to five years olds. In order for them to learn English, I think it is important that the teachers speak to them only in English for at least an hour a day. They are young and their minds are open and they easily absorb the language, with constant repetition and play. We have been practicing the names of things and their colors in the classroom and school yard, and also how to ask for things. It’s quite fun to have a classroom full of kids learning English screaming like “I want the ball”!!! They are keen and excited to learn through play. With the family I am staying with I have been helping them write and correct essays, and also I am trying to encourage them to converse with me more easily. Confidence in oneself is necessary; the skills in computers and English can only be productive if the former is developed alongside an outgoing attitude. I think this should be one of the most essential components of a program such as Horizon Lanka. (For example, educators must insist that children not swallow their words and sentences in nervousness or shyness, or cover their faces and sink sheepishly into the chair, instead to stand up and articulate, however erroneously, their words, sentences, ideas or questions).

Most of the senior students are studying hard for their A’ Level and O’ Level exams and I hope to go visit them at their homes in the next couple of days. I have had one student, Chamila who is 23 years old and she and I have been having long conversations about our different experiences. Through these conversations, she has been learning conversational English and I have been learning about what it is to be a young Sri Lankan woman from the village, aspiring to fulfill her dreams. We have found that although we come from very different socio-economic backgrounds, we both have kindred spirits in seeking novel experiences and knowledge about the world around us.

R. Nalika Gajaweera
August 2nd 2007
Miss Nalika Gajaweera’s Expereinces in Mahawilachchiya – 2

I have to admit that before I arrived here I thought I might be bored for most of the time. I assumed the idyllic life of the village would leave me with nothing to do all day, but I have been pleasantly surprised with how busy the day goes by. I suppose the novelty of it all keeps me amused and curious and this may fade in time. But for now I’m enjoying meeting different people and learning new things from them, discovering new places and living out some of my childhood fantasies of experiencing the Sri Lankan gamme life. My hosts both at the home-stay and at Horizon Lanka as well as the friends I have made through them, have been extremely gracious in finding time for in their busy day to take me sight seeing and taking me around the area.

Last Friday, Hansi’s family, my other friend Chamila and Mr. Ananda organized a trip to Tantirimale. Being one of the most sacred and ancient sites of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist heritage I was extremely psyched to go. As all good Sri Lankan trips go, the trip that supposed to start out at 9.00am really got going around 11.00 am. The task of arranging enough motorbikes and coordinating it with the number of people took up most of the time. Regardless of the delay (whose keeping track anyway?) we made our way, lunch packets, cucumber, snacks, pumpkin and kids slyly excused from school mid-day. On our way we stopped at an ancient Buddhist monastery, another important but not so prestigious heritage spot of Sri Lanka. For centuries this place has been a refuge for Buddhist monks. Founded around 2300 years ago, the rock caves have ancient art and script graffitied into their walls. Once we got to Tantirimale it was about mid-day and lunch under a shady tree by the lake sounded tempting. Again as good old Sri Lankans we stuffed ourselves with way too much rice and curry (temporarily distracted by the crocodile basking in the sun) and worked our way up hot rock during mid-day with heavy lazy stomachs. The place is magnificent. Kind of like if you combined some of the ruins of Pollonnaruwa with the rocky landscape of Kandalama. I was in a photographic frenzy (I think most of my hosts were wondering why I was taking boring landscape photographs or zoomed in shots of random cactus and rock crevices instead of more exciting people shots).

Woke up next day, feeling that Monday my intended departure day was approaching too fast and that there was just too little time. So I’ve decided to extend my stay for a couple of days more. This was my first day really experiencing Horizon Lanka in semi-swing. Still most of the senior students were absent since they are studying for their A-levels and other exams. Mr. Ranjith decided to put me (and the kids) in hot-water and asked me to conduct a couple of classes with the pre-teenagers. I pulled out my ice-breaker tricks used with my undergraduate students to get the classes going. This task itself took up the entire class period. It was slow and sometime a little painful (for both me and the students) but I think we both learnt a lot. Through these little introductory ice-breaker games I tried to focus the class around building their confidence and conversational presentation skills. Later in the afternoon, some folks from Colombo arrived (interested in expanding the concept behind HL), like me they too were Sri Lankan expatriates. In the evening, they organized a canoe trip at the tank, and I was quick to jump at the opportunity of joining them (since my host family were pretty adamant in guarding me against a young girl going on a boat with random fisher folk) . It was a pleasant hour on the water and on our way out we bought some fish from the fisherman wrapping up their catch for the day. The next day, I went for a walk about in the welyayaya’s and the chena’s with some new friends of mine. Wading in lotus ponds to pluck pink lotuses and climbing trees to snatch wadu kurulu nests, and ending the day with a refreshing oya bath was definitely a refreshing way of enjoying a Sunday afternoon, more than Colombo could ever offer I suspect.

Nalika at Horizon Lanka
Nalika at Horizon Lanka
Nalika with Chamila, a senior student
Nalika with Chamila, a senior student
Hansi and Nalika
Hansi and Nalika
Chamila, Hansi and Nalika at Tantirimale
Chamila, Hansi and Nalika at Tantirimale

What dreams may come true! Rural BPO, Sri Lanka – i4d – July, 2007

OnTime BPO
OnTime BPO

Isuru Senevirathna
Horizon Lanka Foundation
However, now I am 19 years old and I am confident that we can do something for our village from the knowledge we gained during a period of about nine years from Horizon Lanka.

‘Horizon Lanka’, the model for taking ICT to the rural villages, is a famous word in Sri Lanka. It is also receiving international recognition. In fact, we never thought of creating a model to take ICT to the rural villages. First, we only wanted to develop our village. For this, we had a great hero to guide us. He is Mr. Nandasiri Wanninaya, our English teacher since 1998. I was 11 years old then.

Mr. Nandasiri was teaching us English in a public school of my village. His teaching method was able to attract us to the subject, although English was a subject hated by most children. Before Mr. Nandasiri it was difficult to learn, as we did not have a teacher who could teach us in a better way. But, Mr. Nandasiri managed to turn the tables. While we were continuing studies, our elder brothers and sisters started a journal called ‘The Horizon’. We wrote stories to that journal and Mr. Nandasiri photocopied them from the nearest town, which is 40 kilometers away from my village. By a stroke of good luck, the US embassy found out about the journal through an article which was written by Mr. Gamini Akmemana for a public English newspaper in Sri Lanka. The US embassy helped us with a 486 model computer and a dot-matrix printer, along with some computer books.

Mr. Nandasiri started teaching us about computers with the knowledge he gained from reading those books, as he himself did not have enough knowledge about computers. Each student got 5 minutes to operate the computer under Mr. Nandasiri’s guidance. This was a fantastic experience for us children of poor farmers.

With Nandasiri sir’s leaving public school, we were really sad since nobody could do Nandasiri sir’s job there. We did not give up our way. We got together as a team and talked him to arrange an English class for us. He accepted our request and started the class under a huge mango tree in his garden. and we did not forget to continue the journal too. A family called Gaminitilake donated a used computer to our English class and we stared a website with their help and uploaded it from the town. Through the website, we got a big publicity throughout the world. It was a big revolution of us. Lot of donors came to us and helped to improve our English and computer knowledge. Eventually we could build a small computer room with the support of donors and the capacity of our parents. This was our journey……

Today we have a modern computer Lab that was donated by Mr & Mrs. Charles. And we could build a tower to connect to the Internet from our village since we had to travel 80 kilometers up and down to access internet from the nearest city ‘Anuradhapura’.

However, now I am 19 years old and I am confident that we can do something for our village from the knowledge we gained during a period of about nine years from Horizon Lanka.

About ten months ago, I realised one of the dream, in my life. I could travel to two countries for a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) training. I never had been out from this small island. But I was lucky to travel to Laos and New Delhi in India with the sponsorship of ICT Agency of Sri Lanka. During that training, we could see practically their operations and the way a BPO company meets the clients’ demand, on time with good quality. Eventually we ended the training and returned to Sri Lanka with the mind of starting our BPO Company in Mahawilachchiya. After a training period of three months, we had an opportunity to start a BPO company in rural Mahawilachchiya village. A foundation called FARO (Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities) is helping us in the initial stage to run the company. Already we have started the company named OnTime Technologies (Pvt) Ltd. John Keells is a major client of us.

We also are discussing with Dialog Telekom Ltd. and Singer Sri Lanka to get some more work for our youth. Around 50 youths are being trained to take up BPO jobs from Mahavilachchiya. Mahavilachchiya has very good infrastructure like a modern computer lab with 512 KBPS internet connection, 50 computers in the village households – 30 of them are connected to Internet through mesh technology – and 7 Wi-Fi zones in the village where you can use your laptops. Through our company, we are offering job opportunities for the youths in the village. This is a big revolution in the village and we are happy to say. This is what we wanted to do. However, we could do it. Now we are using same Horizon Lanka building and Horizon Lanka equipments. In the future, we hope to develop our company as the largest BPO company in Sri Lanka and build a huge building and develop as an our owned company. Nirosh Manjula, who trained with me in Laos and India and I am running this company.

I take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped us to success this journey.

Horizon Lanka Foundation

The Horizon Lanka Foundation was established in 1998 because of the determination of a group of children from the rural village of Mahavilachchiya. Their thirst for knowledge and educational advancement led them to the door of Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka (now CEO of HL Foundation), their former English teacher in the public school. Thus began an after school club providing children further education in English and computers. It has become a popular place for many children of the village. Since 1998, the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out. As well as providing an all round education to the village children at Horizon Lanka Academy, they have expanded into the Information Age and now service the entire community with their computer lab, which has 24h Internet access. In 2001, the website www.horizonlanka.org was launched by the children of Horizon Lanka Academy, opening a window to the world.

HLF is also responsible for beginning a project, which is bringing PCs to the homes of the villagers of Mahavilachchiya. So far more than 30 homes have been furnished with a computer and this is increasing monthly. MicroScholarships is a project of the Horizon Lanka foundation that aims to help deserving students in their education. Many capable students in rural Sri Lanka are forced to interrupt their schooling because of financial difficulties. MicroScholarships ensure that every child covered under the scheme gets a quality education and a happy childhood. Under it, volunteers offer financial assistance that gives the child a small amount of money every month. The efforts, funded purely by kind donations and sponsorship, are now providing over 160 students of the village with computing skills, access to the Internet, PCs in their homes, an Academy to improve their education specializing in ICT and English and most importantly, giving the children and community fresh hope for their futures.

Source: www.horizonlanka.org

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