(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.