Long journey to Horizon Lanka by Vajira de Silva of Spain

Vajira with Wanni and the AIESEC volunteers |
Vajira with Wanni and the AIESEC volunteers |
Vajira with Wanni and the AIESEC volunteers
Vajira with Wanni and the AIESEC volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(by Vajira De Silva, a Sri Lankan who emigrated to England as a school boy and now living in Spain.)

During my brief visit to Sri Lanka at the beginning of December 2009, I met Nanda Wanninayaka, “Wanni” and we decided to visit together Mahawilachchiya and Horizon Lanka installations. We embarked on the journey of December 6, 2009 to Horizon and December 7, 2009 to Colombo.

Having lived abroad for most of my life, I was of course very much gotten used to a comfortable lifestyle: the long journey on the back of a motorbike on Sri Lanka roads was not the stuff made in Hollywood. However, there would be no better way to see the countryside, the people and taken in the local scents than this. We left early in the morning after breakfast and made several short stops and had lunch at Kurunegala.

We passed via the ancient temples at Anhuradapura, where I had not been since I was a small boy. The approach to the village by the large irrigation tank – quite a lake – was fascinating.

Mahawilachchiya has the energy of a unique place, yet representative of rural Sri Lanka. Perhaps the most striking factor was its people, many of whom had a desire to progress and so they have taken Horizon Lanka to their hearts.

We had a short meeting with the volunteers Thalia and Maryn. Curiously, I have also been an AIESEC volunteer many years ago in Europe.
Later we had a meeting with local farmers, objective which was to understand how they work and their difficulties with credit financing, purchase of seeds, fertilizer and other inputs as well as sale of produce. We had discussed about how farmers are a small percentage of the population in Western Europe and are generally quite rich, compared to the average incomes of the countries. There are many reasons for this wealth:

-Subsidies and other incentives offered by the European Union

-In general farms are run as agricultural business. Therefore, at the demise of the owners, the business or the lands do not get divided: often is left to the oldest son. Then this person has to take care of the education of the other siblings. This is the general custom in North East Spain, where agricultural reforms had taken place early, thus was able to industrialize. As land is not divided into small plots for descendants, the owners tend to make long term investments for the business to grow.

Most farmers are members of a local co-operative. These are independent organisations, with no state nor political interference, and owned by the member farmers. Most co-operatives will run a farmers co-op store with seeds, tools, animal feedstock, fertilizer, insecticide etc. with competitive prices. The local co-ops may have understanding with national co-ops so the prices of purchases for their stores can be negotiated at the national level with suppliers and so achieve highly competitive cost prices. Some large co-operatives have sales networks including supermarkets and restaurants.

In Israel, where I have also worked as volunteer, there are co-operative farms known as Kibbutz. All land is owned by the Kibbutz and all work is shared by the members. People tend to live in small houses as they eat in communal dining rooms. Children live together in collective dwellings. The business is run like a company.

After the farmers’ meeting I was taken to my local hosts Abeykoon family for the night, where we had dinner and some chatting. The children acted as translators for the adults and the two small girls also put up a song and dance show.

Next morning we had a meeting with some of the local youth at Horizon. Some were still at school while others had left school. In general, the academic system has not prepared these youngsters for any profession nor vocation. Nor have they had career guidance. The choices of Advance Level subjects in the rural schools are completely inadequate: sciences, mathematics, English, economics, ICT are all not available.
The two AIESEC volunteers also joined the meeting to contribute from their perspective.

Shortly after the meeting, we were on our way back to Colombo. We took a route via Puttalam and witnessed road works progressing very well. Our journey together ended at Ja Ela, from where I took a public bus (conditions have hardly improved since I was a school boy) back to Colombo.

I was very happy to visit Mahawilachchiya and Horizon Lanka.

Puttalam - Anuradhapura Road being repaired
Puttalam – Anuradhapura Road being repaired
Puttalam - Anuradhapura Road being repaired
Puttalam – Anuradhapura Road being repaired

19. Marijn Mostart – Netherlands

19. Marijn Mostart – Netherlands

Marijin Mostart

Miss Marijn Mostart from the Netherlands visited Mahawilachchiya to volunteer for 3 months at Horizon Lanka. She was at Horizon Lanka from (sic) to (sic) in 2009. She was a soft spoken, yet very energetic young lady who was very close to the students. She always wore a beautiful and natural smile which was very inviting to the students. She came to Horizon Lanka through AIESEC, Sri Lanka.

Marijn Mostart’s Report

After a 5-hour train trip from Colombo to Anuradhapura, I thought that I had almost reached my final destination. When I arrived at the railway station, there was a lady from Horizon Lanka who picked me up and told me she was Nanda’s sister, Ramanee. Together we waited for the bus to Mahawilachchiya, which showed up one hour later. I knew that the village was near Anuradhapura, only 40 kilometers away, but the bus trip took another 1.5 hours! Unbelievable to travel 1.5 hours for 40 kilometers! My first acquaintance with the Sri Lankan time management was born.

Time doesn’t play a role in Sri Lanka. Nobody is in a hurry. Everybody is relaxed and easy. There is no stress at all: being on time isn’t a priority here. This is something I wasn’t used to, and so I had to find my way through this tranquil way of living. I saw some villagers doing nothing all day long, which I couldn’t understand in the beginning. Now I know that many things are just different here, and I will describe a little bit about my stay in Mahawilachchiya in this report.

My host family has four members: Ramanee, her mother Achchi (which means grandmother) her sister in law Lanka, and her brother Rathne. I’m very glad to have stayed there: the family is so friendly and hospitable. Once Thalia (the other intern who stayed at Ramanee’s as well) and me were waiting near the road for the bus to Anuradhapura to arrive (time management) and Ramanee brought us tea and biscuits outside, at 6.00 in the morning. As you can see, they took care of us very well, and besides, they are really good cooks. I was surprised that I liked the Sri Lankan food that much. I have a lot of admiration for the way they prepared the meals. Cooking takes a lot of time as they use their hands for everything, and real fire instead of kitchen machines and a hot plate. The moments at which the food was especially spicy, we knew that Lanka was the cook. While waiting in the kitchen we had a lot of fun together. Although Achchi does not speak any English, we understood each other very well. I’m going to miss the black tea with two spoons of sugar in it. We had tea in the morning, tea at 10.30 with Achchi, and tea in the afternoon. Liked it!

With Ramanee I talked a lot about life, Buddhism, Sri Lanka, men etc. She is smart and speaks English well, which is rare in these areas. I was glad that after a week Ramanee told me that Thalia would stay with us as well. She arranged that for me, so that I wouldn’t feel lonely. From that moment on, Thalia and I did everything together; breakfast, teaching, lunch, walking, dinner, washing clothes, going to the lake, making trips etc. We were a good team. Ramanee showed us Mihintale, a very beautiful place near Anuradhapura, and with the whole family we went to Tantirimalai on a tractor, which was a great experience.

At Horizon Lanka I started to teach English in the classical way, but after one hour the children were starting to get bored and wanted to play all the time. Afterwards, Wanni told me that teaching at Horizon could best be done by means of playing and exploring, rather than writing down words and grammar. I was surprised by the fact that a lot of children didn’t even know the ABC, and how to write down letters. Thalia and I started to show them ABC songs on a big white screen. With the girls we went to the lakes quite often, and they loved us to take photos of them with our cameras. The pupils are sweet and cheerful. They are happy and funny. I like them all.

I started to realize that Horizon Lanka is not only a school for children to learn English. Horizon Lanka is the heart of Mahawilachchiya where people come together. It’s is an institution: A place where children play, make friends, get in touch with foreign volunteers, learn how to work with computers and learn bit by bit to speak English. The village has wireless internet, which is unique for Sri Lanka. Horizon Lanka is a great example for the rest of the country and a pioneer in this field. Many people from far away come to Mahawilachchiya to visit Horizon Lanka, to see how the impossible became possible: a real E-village. Can you imagine not to find a piece of toilet paper in the whole village, while wireless internet is available everywhere?

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. Especially the nature with its animals is wonderful. To see a monkey is still a great moment for me. It’s so funny to see them crossing the streets via the electricity cables. Once a monkey stole my pack of biscuits out of the shop at the moment I was paying for it!

In the beginning I was afraid of all kinds of insects, but now I really don’t care anymore to see insects and other animals. Frogs and lizards in the bathroom? No problem! Spiders and ants between my dirty clothes? Simply sweep them away. I’m proud of the fact that I got used to the simple nature life after all. Sleeping on a hard mattress was no big deal, neither to have a cold shower every morning. City girl has turned into jungle girl!

Being in Mahawilachchiya for two months was a meaningful experience which I never will forget. It changed my way of looking at the world. I’ve learned a lot about Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan way of living, and myself. I hope that Mahawilachchiya and the children of Horizon Lanka have learned something from me as well.

Marijn Mostart, The NetherlandsDecember 17, 2009

Teaching
Teaching
Playing
Playing
With a boy
With a boy
With a girl
With a girl
Marijin and Thalia
Marijin and Thalia
Thalia and Marijin
Thalia and Marijin
On a rock
On a rock
With the nursery kids
With the nursery kids
Beach
Beach
With Buddhist devotees
With Buddhist devotees
Monkeys
Monkeys
A reservoir
A reservoir

Computers from Lankanatha Udaya Karunaratne, Washington DC, USA

Children with computers
Children with computers

Lankanatha Udaya Karunaratne, who is an IT Specialist at United Nations Foundation, Washington DC, USA donated two good-quality used PCs and three LCD monitors to Horizon Lanka December, 2009. Now the PCs are being used at Horizon Lanka. We thank Mr. Karunaratne for his kind gesture and appeal those who read this page to send us more used PCs for our usage. Contact info@horizonlanka.net for more information.