Nanda Wanninayaka’s Presentation on “ICT and Automation for Rural Development.”

Nanda Wanninayaka’s Presentation on “ICT and Automation for Rural Development.”

Nanda Wanninayaka – Chairman of the Horizon Lanka Foundation

Following is the succinct transcription of the presentation on ICT & Automation for Rural Development made by me (Nanda Wanninayaka),  at the Galadari Hotel in Colombo on December 22, 2018 at the International Conference on Information and Automation for Sustainability (ICIAfS) – 2018.

Nanda Wanninayaka

 “Good evening everybody. I am not certain as to why Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara invited me to do a presentation at an Engineers Symposium as I am not an engineer but only an artist.

I usually do not do my presentations with Microsoft PowerPoint because
Edward Tufte said, “Power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” Therefore, let us watch this video made by volunteer Pakistani artists who visited the Horizon Lanka Foundation in 2015 as it is played in the background, with a reduced soundtrack while my speech goes on.

We started Horizon Academy in Mahawilachchiya 20 years ago and now, we have branched out to 5 villages in Anuradhapura, Nuwara Eliya and Jaffna districts providing English (and other languages), ICT (and other technologies) while entertaining extracurricular activities such as playschool, fine arts, and sports.

We utilize local and foreign volunteers’ contributions extensively in our teaching. Local university students, young professionals from the IT industry and other areas of interest teach the students free of charge during weekends and also, scores of foreign volunteers teach the students during weekdays. These are still largely untapped talent that has enormous potential to take education in Sri Lanka to the next level.

At Horizon Academies we offer “edutainment” rather than the boring teaching methods used in traditional classroom-based education offered at public schools and at private tuition institutes. There is no point in repeating the public-school syllabuses, textbooks and past examination papers targeting term tests and national level exams which are once again repeated at a faster pace at private tuition classes all over again. We do not even touch those at Horizon Academies. We don’t assign homework to the students. We teach in a natural environment outside classrooms. Kids play, walk around the village, go bathing/swimming in rivers and lakes, go shopping, watch movies, go on field trips & so forth with the teachers and they learn languages and technology while doing such entertaining and exciting activities. Horizon Academy’s tagline is “The Edutainment Academy of Sri Lanka.”

Thanks to these non-conventional methods, the sons and daughters of farmers, laborers, fishermen & traders ended up being software & network engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers and professionals in other fields. Now I am very happy to hear them speak better English than I do. They have built houses, purchased vehicles and have married early (unlike waiting till the mid-30s like me), they have become totally independent at a younger age.

We at Horizon Lanka, use a lot of modern technologies for teaching. We use the internet, emailing, Instant Messenger (IM) programs, smartphones for teaching in innovative ways. We covered Mahawilachchiya with a village-wide free unlimited Wi-Fi mesh network way back in 2006, 10 years before the present government introduced limited free Wi-Fi to some hotspots in cities in Sri Lanka.

Wi-Fi Mesh Network in Mahawilachchiya – English

Wi-Fi Mesh Network in Mahawilachchiya – Sinhala

We invited Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, the then Secretary to the President, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) since he helped getting the permission to deploy the network in Mahawilachchiya during the war time and in addition, he was a well-wisher of Horizon Lanka for a long time.


Mr.
Lalith Weeratunga at Horizon Lanka Foundation, Mahawilachchiya

When he visited Mahawilachchiya to officially commission the free Wi-Fi network, we trained 3 girls & 3 boys who were 11-year-olds to do the presentation in English by utilizing laptops and slides. Mr. Weeratunga was pleasantly surprised and reported this to the then President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa about how effective & progressive Horizon Lanka Foundation was in education and technology in Mahawilachchiya. President Rajapaksa, in his capacity of the Finance Minister, included a proposal into the national budget of 2007 to allocate 100 million LKR to replicate Horizon Lanka model academies in each 300 + Divisional Secretariat Divisions in Sri Lanka. The budget was passed with a heavy majority but alas! Not a single cent came our way to Mahawilachchiya or elsewhere as a very obnoxious Sri Lankan IT professor exercised his despicable powers over the President and sabotaged the whole plan. This odious man died a few months later but did enough damage before exiting the planet.

We did not ask for the government’s help. But I know Mr. Weeratunga, in all honesty, & sincerity, desired to help and this was the reason he influenced the President. But what happened was a total tragedy for Horizon Lanka, when the government and media published this “100-million-LKR allocation” story all our regular donors came under the impression that Horizon Lanka was now well funded & taken care of, hence they diverted their help to other organizations and we were the ultimate losers.

When I was absolutely convinced that the “100-million-LKR” promise was false   (like many similar ones) and we had already lost our regular donors, I spoke to one of the officers at the Presidential Office and inquired whether I could publish a story on our website about the broken promise so that the rest of the world & our former donors would become aware of what exactly took place. But he stated something to the effect that if I did that, I would be considered as a “persona non grata” who discredits the government and will be dealt with. Well, we all know what this meant during those times.

The end result of all this being; Horizon Lanka Foundation’s funding dried up and all the good work was downgraded, eventually having to close for 3 years before we resumed it in 2014 with hardly any money in the bank account.

That, my dear friends, reminded me of one of the most famous quotes by the late American President Mr. Ronald Reagan. He said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Therefore friends, if you want to do anything for this country, do it before the government messes it up. 
Thank you very much for your attention.”

Ronald Reagan
Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara
A part of the audience at International Conference on Information and Automation for Sustainability (ICIAfS) – 2018

Nanda Wanninayaka - Profile

Nanda teaching computers
Nanda teaching computers

Students in rural Sri Lanka are at a competitive disadvantage in today’s economy for two reasons: They lack the training and English skills typically provided by urban schools, and the low levels of infrastructure throughout rural areas discourage business investment. Recognizing that the educational system in Sri Lanka is failing to keep pace with the requirements of the job market, Nanda has created a parallel system through the Horizon Lanka Foundation www.horizonlanka.org he founded in his own village in rural Sri Lanka, Mahawilachchiya 20 years ago. Through the Foundation he tries to better prepare rural children and youth to face the competitive world in terms equipping the children, teenagers and the youth of rural Sri Lanka with English and other main world languages, technology, fine arts, and sporting talents. His model relies on innovative teaching methods that combine English with computer-skills training, and the simultaneous development of community-wide Internet connectivity. Extensively deploying local and foreign volunteers’ contribution is the key to the success of his low-cost educational model that could be replicated anywhere in Sri Lanka, even under a tree, exactly like how the Horizon Lanka was born in 1998.

English skills serve little purpose if jobs remain unavailable. Nanda thus supplements his teaching efforts with the development of a technological infrastructure designed to attract communication, training, and employment opportunities that would otherwise exist only in cities. He turned to his village into an “e-village,” equipping it with household computers and free, unlimited Internet access even as early as 2004. Using a combination of soft loans, subsidies, and gifts, he has provided over 400 computers and 100 tabs, laptops, etc. over the last 20 years to families and public schools in the area. Of these, these were connected to the Internet via an affordable “mesh” Wi-Fi internet network technology in 2006, 10 years before the government provided limited free Wi-Fi to urban hotspots in Sri Lanka.

Thanks to these efforts, Nanda helped start a leading blue-chip company to start a Business Process Operation (BPO) in the village and now the successful model is being replicated in other villages too. Nanda is creating a powerful model that is attracting the attention of local communities, the national government, the national and international business community, and multi-lateral institutions.

By now the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out to 5 rural villages in 3 districts in 3 provinces in Sri Lanka by launching 5 Horizon Academies to Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities without any of those communities being discriminated on their ethnic background. Nanda has introduced a franchise system for any Sri Lankan individual, community, government, non-governmental or commercial entity to purchase Horizon Academy franchises and run them with the same quality standards of the initial 7 Horizon Academies that are already running by creating an opportunity to sustain the existing academies with the royalty fee coming from the new franchises.

Nanda’s way of teaching is edutainment and the tagline of the Horizon Academy is – “The Edutainment Academy of Sri Lanka.” All disciplines are imparted to the students using a lot of entertainment without the students being felt bored during mostly outdoor classroom activities.

Nanda believes, through these academies, more than academic, vocational and professional achievements, the children, teenagers and the youth will have a better understanding and interaction with all ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds of Sri Lanka without the overused and abused word “reconciliation” being even mentioned.

Nanda believes aesthetic, sporting and technology can create an unending link between Sri Lanka and their ancestors in Kalinga in a long-term plan. He hopes to initiate a Horizon India Foundation with Mr. Prakash Chandra Nayak, a friend he never met in person as yet but has been helping Horizon Lanka Foundation in many great ways during the last decade. Through the planned Horizon India Foundation, Nanda hopes to start a chain of low-cost academies throughout Kalinga with Prakash to provide English, ICT, aesthetic and sporting education free of charge to the students and the youth in Kalinga with the experience Nanda has for the last 20 years. He hopes to find the running costs of these academies by starting rural village level Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies just like he did 10 years ago and also by expanding his proposed Horizon Yatra, an alternative tourism company which he is going to launch next January to promote responsible tourism in the region. So, this tour of him with the two teenage girls Prabodha and Pramodhya to take part in Kalinga Mystic Music Festival would be a mutually benefiting visit to both Kalinga and Sri Lanka.

Nanda hopes to ride a motorbike in Kalinga (Odisha) in India in 2019 for a month to trace the roots of the Sinhala race which he belongs in Sri Lanka. Read his blog post on the same at https://wanni.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/tracking-down-my-possible-ancestry-in-kalinga-india-by-a-motorbike/

Nanda is an Ashoka Fellow since 2007. See his profile at https://www.ashoka.org/fellow/nandasiri-wanninayaka

Pramodhya Gunarathna – Profile

Pramodhya Gunarathna – Profile

Pramodhya is just 14 but has already traveled to India to take part in a karate competition two years ago. Being a genius in martial arts did not affect her artistic talents. She is a good singer, dancer and an electronic organ player. She did not have professional teachers for any of these disciplines but the young all-rounder doesn’t take “no” as an answer. Whatever she ventures into, she does it to perfection.

Prabodha, a proud winner of many a karate medal

Pramodhya hails from Mahawilachchiya, a rural village in Anuradhapura where academic opportunities are less even though there are a few public schools. This is why she joined Horizon Academy in Mahawilachchiya run by the Horizon Lanka Foundation www.horizonlanka.org as she knew well her aesthetic and sporting talents would be recognized there.

Pramodhya trying a selfie

Pramodhya is the second daughter of a family of three children and both her parents are farmers. Father took a gamble in going to work in Iraq for some time to ensure that his family has a better opportunity to survive but what he got in turn was not enough with what he sacrificed, being away from the family in an extremely dangerous environment. Once he returned to the family, he had already lost his job as a Civil Security Force member and toiling with hostile land was the only option he and his wife had.

A dancer-cum-super model to be

But Pramodhya thinks otherwise. She believes that she could become a professional sportswoman while keeping her aesthetic talents as a hobby to enjoy and entertain others. So, she thinks studying in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, (formerly known as Kalinga) – the Sports Capital of India – will change her fate and that of her family. With the invitation already extended to her from Odisha, India, she is very keen to go there after her high school finals and become a sport star. She wants to learn the discipline academically in a university in Odisha so that she could be a coach one day once she retires from competitive sports. She dreams to start a sports academy for the young children who do not get the opportunities she is to get and groom them as professional sportsmen and women.

Pramodhya in action

Pramodhya is of the view that a lasting link between Kalinga, her ancestral patriarchy and Sri Lanka would mutually benefit as cultural, touristic, aesthetic and sporting arenas of the two states could be taken to a new level of solidarity at a time the Indo-Lanka relationships were strained due to political reasons beyond her control. She believes sports can do wonders and make great friends.

Prabodha Kalotuwawa – Profile

Prabodha Kalotuwawa

Fifteen-year-old Prabodha Kalotuwawa is a girl born and bred in the rural village of Mahawilachchiya in Anuradhapura, which was the most ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Being born as the youngest daughter of farmer-parents who were not academically sound did not dampen Prabodha’s spirits to pursue education at an innovative supplementary educational institute, Horizon Academy in Mahawilachchiya which provided education free of charge to the children as her public school did not provide what she craved for, the English language, ICT and her pet area, singing and dancing.

Prabodha’s own choreographed dance for Madonna’s hit song “Frozen.”

So, she joined the Horizon Academy, the educational arm of the Horizon Lanka Foundation at a tender age of 11 to cut her teeth in dancing, singing and music even though Horizon Academy is not a dedicated academy for such areas, but they are done to break monotony of the students.

Prabodha showed her prowess as an artist by choreographing dancing to a range of music genre, nobody knows how she gets the perfect steps as she never had the opportunity to learn those genres herself from the professional teachers. But her talents are innate and she is a natural in any type of dancing, be it folk, classic, oriental, opera or sub continental. She has this ability of creating the steps according to the tune and the meaning of any type of songs from the local languages to subcontinental languages to western languages.

Present day Odisha (of Kalinga fame of Ashokan era) is rich in culture and tradition and has nurtured art in different forms, well depicted in its architecture, sculpture, dance, song, music and arts. Tracing back the cultural linkage of both Sri Lanka and Kalinga, she wants to learn dance, music and the culture of the ancient land. Prabodha’s dream is to become a professional singer, dancer, musician and an actress.

She hopes to start an arts academy to teach the young children who do not have access to professional aesthetic education someday. For this, she thinks having an all-round aesthetic education in Kalinga, India is the only way she could pursuit her dreams and she is determined to go the distance.

Prabodha wants to strengthen the aesthetic and cultural heritage between the two states to be harnessed to reinvent the 2500-year-old historical relationship between the two brotherly nations. When the adult political leaders are losing their heads on political quagmires, Prabodha believes that the children and the youth can become the ambassadors of peace and friendship if guided properly.

You can see Prabodha performing a dance item with her friends in 2016 when she was just 13 below.

Contribute to Prabodha and Pramodhya’s Tour to Odisha, India to Perform at the Mystic Kalinga Music Festival

Contribute to Prabodha and Pramodhya’s Tour to Odisha, India to Perform at the Mystic Kalinga Music Festival


Nanda Wanninayaka, the Chairman of Horizon Lanka Foundation.

Prakash Chandra Nayak from Odisha, India became a friend of mine over a decade ago. Our friendship was strengthened once we discovered that Odisha (Ancient name Kalinga) and Sri Lanka have a historical link which runs back 2,500 years. 

Prabodha Kalotuwawa
Prabodha Kalotuwawa
Pramodhya Gunarathna

This friendship has resulted in Prakash granting benefits to the students of Horizon Lanka Foundation during the last couple of years.

  1. Prakash arranged a fully funded trip for a female student,
    Shanika Sudarshanage to make a presentation at an event held in New Delhi, India on November 30, 2014. Please read the teenage student Shanika’s tour report at http://www.horizonlanka.org/en/blog/2014/11/21/tour-india-take-part-international-toilet-day-festival-shanika-ishanthi-sudarshanage/.
  • In 2017, another teenage girl, Tharushika Rathnayaka was invited to make a similar presentation in Cape Town, South Africa. Even though the trip was fully funded. Unfortunately, due to a problem of obtaining visa approval on time resulted in a last-minute cancellation of her tour.

Having seen our YouTube Channel for aesthetic expressions, Horizon Extravaganza, Prakash invited two of our best teenage girls, Prabodha Kalotuwawa and Pramodhya Gunarathna, who are extremely good at singing and dancing to grace the Mystic Kalinga Music Festival in Odisha, India to be held on January 5, 6, in 2019, where performers from each Indian State gather to perform. To get an invitation to such a big event itself is a privilege. Since the tour was arranged in a hurry, Prakash will not be able to get the organizers to cover the expenses for flight tickets this time, however, the rest of the expenses would be taken care of during the event.

Prabodha’s dance for Madonna’s song “Frozen.
Pramodhya’s dance for Shreya Ghoshal’s “Barso Re Megha Megha”

Prabodha and Pramodhya will be performing one Sri Lankan traditional dance, will sing one Odia language duet together and a Hindi dance at the event. They have already completed the training for these singing & dancing acts and will upload these video clips to this page in a few days. 

This is a humble request & appeal to everyone who follows activities of Horizon Lanka to contribute financially to the travel expenses, to make it possible for these two young girls to partake in this festival.  We have already received some donations from a few donors. Every single contribution however small will be much appreciated. Please contact me at nanda@horizonlanka.org on how to make a contribution. Once the event is over, I will send a detailed report on how your hard-earned money was spent.

Prakash has already made arrangements for both these girls to study at a university in Odisha, India once the two girls complete their high school (Advanced Level.) examinations.  Prabodha & Pramodhya are 15 & 14 years old respectively.  A private school in Anuradhapura has offered tuition-free education at the school for both girls beginning January 2019, for their ‘Advanced Level’ examinations in the English medium as part of preparing the two girls for an English language education at an Indian university. If any of you kindly wish to contact Prakash, just send me an email through nanda@horizonlanka.org and I will connect you with him.

Till that see their performances with other students of Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya at the “Rainbow of Cultures – Horizon Lanka Mega Concert – 2016” held in November, 2016. Prabodha was 13 and Pramodhya was 12 when this show was staged.

Prabodha choreographed all the dance items here herself, sometimes taking some steps from the original music videos or creating her own in most cases. Each dance item was videoed from three video cameras and we will edit this soon and have one edition from each item.

All the Western dance items below were co-choreographed by Probodha and Mr. Chandler Meek-Owens, the volunteer from the USA.