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