A Pi-Bot robot kit from Mr. Nuwan Samaranayake from the USA

Dhananjaya Wijewickrama setting up the Pi-Bot robot unit
Dhananjaya Wijewickrama setting up the Pi-Bot robot unit

Mr. Nuwan Samaranayake, a Sri Lankan born software engineer from Houston, Texas, USA has helped Horizon Lanka from the very inception. Recently he sent a Pi-Bot robot kit for us to learn the hardware and software of robotics. Our senior student Dhananjaya Wijewickrama was able to learn how to use it by reading online tutorials about it. Now other senior students also learn how to use and program it. We thank Mr. Samaranayake for opening a new avenue for us.

Pi-Bot robot unit
Pi-Bot robot unit
Pi-Bot robot unit
Pi-Bot robot unit
Pi-Bot robot unit
Pi-Bot robot unit
Pi-Bot robot unit
Pi-Bot robot unit

Road to Buruthagas Handiya, Mahawilachchiya Temporary Repaired

Road after the temprary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs

After the protest march by the villagers in Mahawilachchiya followed by a hunger strike by Mr. Anura Bandara, a farmer, the government agreed to repair the road from Tract 4 Junction to Buruthagas Handiya, Tract 3. They sent excavators and temporary repaired by just flattening the road. This is not a lasting solution as the condition of the road can deteriorate due to the rain. The government has promised Mr. Bandara that they will completely repair the road within 3 months.

Road after the temprary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs
Road after the temporary repairs

Two Laptops from Rehan Allahwala, Karachi, Pakistan

Nuwan Sampath Dissanayaka, with one of the laptops from Rehan
Nuwan Sampath Dissanayaka, with one of the laptops from Rehan

Nanda Wanninayaka, the Founder of Horizon Lanka Foundation

I met Mr. Rehan Allahwala from Karachi, Pakistan while I was at Lanka Hospitals, Colombo, Sri Lanka to get my annual medical checkup done in December, 2013. Rehan’s face was so serene and inviting so that I could not help initiating an informal chat with him even though I hardly talk to strangers. We talked about each other’s work and we both had the interest in using ICT-related technology for social good. So we met several times in Colombo and talked at length on using technology at various fronts to make a positive difference in the society. He gifted me what came to be my first Android phone, a 3G-enabled Samsung Galaxy S Duos 2 S7562, a hot release by then.  Rehan calls such phones “smart phones” as the others do and the non-smart phones, “stupid phones.” That smart phone changed my life with mobile based Internet and the fate of Horizon Lanka Foundation. Horizon Lanka was closed for almost 3 ½ years from February, 2011 to June, 2013 as we faced a financial crisis. Also the repercussions Horizon Lanka faced due to me leaving the village in January, 2006 with my marriage.

Even though I had opened a Facebook account when it was opened for this part of the world, I did not use it much as I thought it was a time wasting tool. But Rehan explained me how one can change the way people think to positive with Facebook. First I thought Rehan was crazy, to be honest. But his crazy ideas just worked. I started getting a lot of Facebook friend requests from Pakistan. Now I have more than 2,500 contacts and around 1,500 of them are Pakistanis. Pakistan is a good friend of Sri Lanka politically and culturally. In addition to that, we are more or less equals in the game of cricket now and enjoy Pakistani team’s tours to Sri Lanka a lot.

Rehan Allahwala
Rehan Allahwala

I had read about Rehan’s scheme in rewarding with a laptop to the Facebook users who befriend 500 of Rehan’s mutual friends and never knew that I will be eligible for it since I am from Sri Lanka. But Rehan had sent me two laptops instead of one, even without me being eligible for the rewarding as I still haven’t befriended at least 500 of Rehan’s mutual Facebook friends. But I get the idea that he sent me the two laptops upfront because he admires my work at Horizon Lanka Foundation which I founded myself some 17 years ago to enhance village children’s English and ICT knowledge.  As a result of the education given by Horizon Lanka, a large number of ICT, English and other professionals emerged from the rural village of Mahawilachchiya. Didn’t they reward Barack Obama with Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 even before he didn’t do much to deserve it? But I will not disappoint Rehan like Obama did. 🙂

“The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to United States President Barack Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.” The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the award on October 9, 2009, citing Obama’s promotion of nuclear nonproliferation and a “new climate” in international relations fostered by Obama, especially in reaching out to the Muslim world.” – Wikipedia

I gave one of the laptops to a former Horizon Lanka student who is running his own photography and graphic designing enterprise and the other one to a volunteer who helps Horizon Lanka from time to time whenever the need arises.

I will befriend more than 1000 of Rehan’s mutual friends and also will work in a Pakistani rural village as a volunteer in time to come to justify Rehan’s generosity. I am also encouraging our students and the youth in the village to befriend Rehan’s mutual friends because it helps a lot to gain more knowledge and experiences.

Two laptops from Rehan
Two laptops from Rehan
Nuwan's Studio
Nuwan’s Studio
One of the laptops with the package
One of the laptops with the package

ChildsPlay International – Horizon Lanka Event in Mahawilachchiya

Dancing girls of Horizon Lanka
Dancing girls of Horizon Lanka

Nanda Wanninayaka, the Founder of Horizon Lanka Foundation

I met Mr. Rehan Allahwala from Karachi, Pakistan while I was at Lanka Hospitals, Colombo, Sri Lanka to get my annual medical checkup done in December, 2013. Rehan’s face was so serene and inviting so that I could not help initiating an informal chat with him even though I hardly talk to strangers. We talked about each other’s work and we both had the interest in using ICT-related technology for social good. So we met several times in Colombo and talked at length on using technology at various fronts to make a positive difference in the society. He gifted me what came to be my first Android phone, a 3G-enabled Samsung Galaxy S Duos 2 S7562, a hot release by then.  Rehan calls such phones “smart phones” as the others do and the non-smart phones, “stupid phones.” That smart phone changed my life with mobile based Internet and the fate of Horizon Lanka Foundation. Horizon Lanka was closed for almost 3 ½ years from February, 2011 to June, 2013 as we faced a financial crisis. Also the repercussions Horizon Lanka faced due to me leaving the village in January, 2006 with my marriage.

Even though I had opened a Facebook account when it was opened for this part of the world, I did not use it much as I thought it was a time wasting tool. But Rehan explained me how one can change the way people think to positive with Facebook. First I thought Rehan was crazy, to be honest. But his crazy ideas just worked. I started adding Rehan’s mutual friends to my FB account and in turn, I started getting a lot of Facebook friend requests from Pakistan. Now I have more than 2,500 contacts and around 1,500 of them are Pakistanis. Pakistan is a good friend of Sri Lanka politically and culturally and they helped Sri Lankan government (along with China and Russia) a lot to win the war against the Tamil Tiger terrorists who wrecked the island of Sri Lanka into pieces for almost 30 years. In addition to that, we are more or less equals in the game of cricket now and enjoy each other’s visits a lot.

In September, 2014 Rehan introduced me Mr. Sarwar Mushtaq, a documentary filmmaker, the CEO of Eckova Productions, Pakistan in turn who introduced me Dr. Steven Watson, a revered author from the USA. Dr. Watson pools the income he gets from the sales of his books to a non-profit organization called ChildsPlay International, which promotes outdoor activities like, folk games, folk songs, folk dances, storytelling, drawing and painting, mask making etc. to get the children actively involved in education. This went in par with my vision, though I hardly used folk stuff for it as I wanted to use contemporary forms of arts, sports and new technology to get the students engaged in outdoor activities which paid rich dividends. But now I understand that preserving the folk forms of arts and sports also can be used and both students and the parents love it. They do not forget their history that fast. Who am I to deny that right for them?

I had a chat with both Dr. Watson and Ms. Denise Davies from Canada who had spent some time in Sri Lanka and was convinced that this is a chance not to be missed. So, Dr. Watson sent Mr. Sarwar Mushtaq, the Pakistani American photographer and videographer on a fact-finding mission to Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya, Sri Lanka in November, 2014. We had enough time to talk and see places in and around Mahawilachchiya and our chemistries matched most of the time if not all the time.

Sarwar Mushtaq in Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka in November, 2014.
Sarwar Mushtaq in Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka in November, 2014.

Then we planned to hold the ChildsPlay International – Horizon Lanka Foundation (CPI-HLF) event in December, 2014 but with the torrential rains and subsequent floods that hampered any transport between the Left Bank (where Horizon Lanka is) and the Right Bank of the village, we had to postpone it to January, 2016. But the floods did not recede even by January. So, the next option was to have the event in April 2016 which was not practical due to Sri Lankan New Year celebrations in April short public school vacation.

So, the most practical and logical choice was August, 2016 the driest and the most rainless month of the year. Alas! It rained virtual cats and dogs in August too and it stopped few days into the event making the village of Mahawilachchiya all green, as green as during Sarwar’s first visit. So, everything around Horizon Lanka was giving us a photogenic atmosphere.

CPI4

Children gathered at Sri Sudarshanaramaya, the village temple for the first meeting with CPI.
Children gathered at Sri Sudarshanaramaya, the village temple for the first meeting with CPI.

We started the CPI-HLF event on August 24, 2016, first with giving an overview to the children, youth and the parents at the Sri Sudarshanarama Buddhist Temple, the temple we work closely as the chief monk is a friendly, helpful and intelligent person. Next day, all the students visited Horizon Lanka and there were around 130-140 students there. Sarwar Mushtaq, the CEO of Eckova Productions, Pakistan and his team members, Nadeem Ahmed, Ejaz Bhatti and Nayab Rehman did a splendid job throughout the event. They became very friendly with the children and the villagers and the children and the villagers in turn, returned the favor and the warmth.

Ejaz, Nadeem and Sarwar of CPI/Eckova
Ejaz, Nadeem and Sarwar of CPI/Eckova

We worked on indigenous art, crafts etc. and indigenous performing arts (music, song, dance, etc.) We also had activities such as masks making and costumes, etc. which the kids fell in love with and everyone needed a mask which was Nayab’s pet area. For local storytelling traditions, we got both the kids’ and adults’ contribution actively and did the recordings at the Buddhist temple which was mentioned above.

Miss Nayab Rehman of CPI/Eckova
Miss Nayab Rehman of CPI/Eckova
Girls are ready to dance in their traditional costumes
Girls are ready to dance in their traditional costumes
Miss Nayab help making masks for the children
Miss Nayab help making masks for the children
Girls practicing a dance item
Girls practicing a dance item
Children busy with drawing
Children busy with drawing
Children busy with drawing
Children busy with drawing
Boys supporting dancing girls
Boys supporting dancing girls
Learning photography/videoing from Ejaz of CPI/Eckova
Learning photography/videoing from Ejaz of CPI/Eckova
Children are doing folk games.
Children are doing folk games.
Horizon Lanka students
Horizon Lanka students
Ranjan, a volunteer working with the children
Ranjan, a volunteer working with the children
Children playing a folk game
Children playing a folk game
Horizon Lanka students
Horizon Lanka students
Horizon Lanka students
Horizon Lanka students
Horizon Lanka students DJing the mini concert
Horizon Lanka students DJing the mini concert
Children playing
Children playing
Children at Horizon Lanka
Children at Horizon Lanka
Children at Horizon Lanka
Children at Horizon Lanka
Children at Horizon Lanka
Children at Horizon Lanka
Nadeem from CPI/Eckova with children and junior students' drawings.
Nadeem from CPI/Eckova with children and junior students’ drawings.
Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka with the children and one of the volunteers.
Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka with the children and one of the volunteers.
CPI/Eckova team is talking to Mr. Sunimal Weerasooriya, one of the first generation benefactors of Horizon Lanka
CPI/Eckova team is talking to Mr. Sunimal Weerasooriya, one of the first generation benefactors of Horizon Lanka
Ejaz Bhatia of CPI/Eckova playing cricket with the children
Ejaz Bhatia of CPI/Eckova playing cricket with the children
Nadeem bawling to Ejaz at cricket field.
Nadeem bawling to Ejaz at cricket field.
Boys and girls playing soccer
Boys and girls playing soccer
A part of the audience at the mini concert on the final day
A part of the audience at the mini concert on the final day
A part of the audience at the mini concert on the final day
A part of the audience at the mini concert on the final day
Mr. Kularathna Rajapaksha, a director of Horizon Lanka handing over 10,000 LKR given by CPI to the village sports club
Mr. Kularathna Rajapaksha, a director of Horizon Lanka handing over 10,000 LKR given by CPI to the village sports club

After supervising all these activities what I felt was that there should be a better communication between the beneficiary organization and the benefactor so that many things go as planned if not all. Due to late night work (such as downloading the pictures and videos from their cameras and editing them) of the CPI team, some days students were idling without much activities to be done. On the other hand, the volunteers selected should have taken over during the absence of the CPI team but this did not happen. Next time we should employ volunteers who can be in the premises throughout the day.

Children became very active and lively with the activities. This is what they miss at their regular schools. In public schools in Sri Lanka, children get the first term totally dedicated to sports without giving a chance for significant amount of academic affairs and the next two terms are totally academic without providing a window for sports so much so that the school playgrounds grow into little jungles by the start of the next year. I wanted to see a change in this while I was a schoolboy. Once I was hired as a consultant to the Ministry of Education, I tried my best to convince the relevant officials who did not agree with what I said and all they said was what they have been doing is an age-old procedure and it is not advisable to change that tradition. I think it would be a good idea to introduce CPI model activity based education to the public schools as well, if there is an avenue for it. Children were very comfortable with CPI activities and they did not want the program to end. Even the most inactive or least talented student actively took part in the activities. This helped them to get rid of stage phobia and typical shyness the students in this part of the world have. In fact, children are not comfortable in questioning the teachers as the children think it is improper to question a teacher because of the great respect they are supposed to have towards the teachers. This is an adverse effect of too much respect. But with the CPI activities, both the teachers and the CPI team made a leveled field with the students and everybody reacted positively.

The teachers and parents were extremely happy with the way program was conducted and requested that similar events be held frequently at Horizon Lanka Foundation. Teachers/volunteers need more awareness about the goals of the work of CPI. They are not used to this type of activities as they are used to work according to a fixed timetable throughout the year. They find it difficult to introduce something new if and when the CPI team is not present at the premises. Parents want us to pay more attention to children’s aesthetic (painting, singing, dancing, etc.) talents as those talents are not used at public schools and only a few selected children get all the opportunities whereas with CPI, every child gets equal opportunities.

If we are to organize a similar event with the CPI in future, teachers, parents and mentors are very happy to contribute since they know what exactly to be done with their first hand experiences. At their request, we are planning to have a sports tournament and a 3-hour long concert at Horizon Lanka in early 2016. The practices have already begun and we will be able to fine tune the dancing items if there is a budget to hire the dancing teacher in the village.

We will organize an evening to show what the children did by putting up some photographs of the events, showing them some video, playing back some of the recorded stories. This will be very encouraging for children to see themselves and to know that what they have done is valued. We are waiting to see the videos done by CPI at the event so that we could show both children and parents of the activities done. What we have for the moment are amateur videos and it is worth waiting for CPI videos and photos taken by professionals.

I think this idea of CPI should be expanded to other schools in the area and Horizon Lanka can be used as the bridge to do so. We can convince the headmasters and teachers in the area and can do the communication and organizing part through Horizon Lanka so that the presence of the Horizon Lanka Foundation will be valued even more by the community.

 

A Protest March and a Hunger Strike in Mahawilachchiya to Force the Government to Repair a Road in Mahawilachchiya

Anura Bandara in hunger strike
Anura Bandara in hunger strike

Nanda Wanninayaka, the Founder of Horizon Lanka Foundation, Mahawilachchiya.

The road from Anuradhapura to Mahawilachchiya was repaired well during the rule of the previous government. According to the sources from the Mahawilachchiya Divisional Secretariat, the previous government also had allocated money to extend the road repairs from Mahawilachchiya Tract 4 Junction up to Helambewa through Sooriyadamana. But after the change of the government in January this year the new government canceled the repairing of this very important road.

The road from Tract 4 junction to Buruthagas Handiya was not repaired well for a very long time. What they did was just flattening the road with an excavator from time to time. It wasn’t a lasting solution to the problem. The soil became a muddy road during the monsoon rains and most of the flattened soil was washed away with the rain and traveling became a nightmare. This part of the road wasn’t repaired after it was built before 1957. Mahawilachchiya settlement was handed over to the people in 1957.

Today, (November 10, 2015) there was a protest march led by Mr. Anura Bandara, a farmer in the village to force the government to repair this road from Tract 4 junction to Buruthagas Handiya (only 5 kilometers.) Mr. Bandara started a hunger strike after the protest march till the government promises to repair the road. A few years ago, he led another protest with a large number of villagers to force the then government to repair the road from Anuradhapura to Mahawilachchiya. He was even put in the remand prison for seven days as he defied the court order given to him ordering him not to block the road. However, after some time, the road was repaired and now it is in a good condition to travel. The road from Pemaduwa (the small town in Mahawilachchiya village) to Mannar junction was repaired and carpeted after former president Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa experienced how bad the road was when he travelled to Mannar Junction in a car to declare open cooperative rice storage. So he ordered the officials to repair and carpet that distance. Now that road is well repaired and carpeted. But there is nobody to repair this last 5 kilometers in the Left Bank of Mahawilachchiya. Hope Mr.  Bandara’s hunger strike ends with a positive response from the government. He represents everyone in the village.

Villagers led by Anura Bandara at the protest march
Villagers led by Anura Bandara at the protest march

 

Villagers led by Anura Bandara at the protest march
Villagers led by Anura Bandara at the protest march
Villagers led by Anura Bandara at the protest march
Villagers led by Anura Bandara at the protest march
Villagers led by Anura Bandara at the protest
Villagers led by Anura Bandara at the protest
A vociferous village woman talking to a TV camera
A vociferous village woman talking to a TV camera

 

A van finding it difficult to travel in the damaged road
A van finding it difficult to travel in the damaged road
A part of the damaged road
A part of the damaged road
A part of the damaged road
A part of the damaged road