Seventeen year old Tharanga Sampath is the proud owner of a brand new laptop for being the best blogger at Horizon Lanka Academy in Mahavilachchiya village in north-central Sri Lanka.
The laptop was donated by Dr. Ing. E. Leuthold from Switzerland in coordination with the Lak Saviya Foundation after contacting the Horizon Lanka Foundation in April, Horizon said. Leuthod has already promised to send two more laptops for the next two best students.
What began as an after school club providing children further education in English and computers, Horizon Lanka has branched out, providing an all round education to the village children.
It has expanded into the information age and now services the entire community with computer labs with 24 hour Internet access. Staff at the Foundation describes Tharanga as ‘showing a keen interest in Horizon affairs for the past few months since he joined the Foundation.’
He has recently been given the responsibility of handling lessons for juniors and ‘has the good quality of fulfilling whatever duty is assigned to him with a great deal of preparation and devotion.’ (NG)
Horizon Lanka Foundation
However, now I am 19 years old and I am confident that we can do something for our village from the knowledge we gained during a period of about nine years from Horizon Lanka.
‘Horizon Lanka’, the model for taking ICT to the rural villages, is a famous word in Sri Lanka. It is also receiving international recognition. In fact, we never thought of creating a model to take ICT to the rural villages. First, we only wanted to develop our village. For this, we had a great hero to guide us. He is Mr. Nandasiri Wanninaya, our English teacher since 1998. I was 11 years old then.
Mr. Nandasiri was teaching us English in a public school of my village. His teaching method was able to attract us to the subject, although English was a subject hated by most children. Before Mr. Nandasiri it was difficult to learn, as we did not have a teacher who could teach us in a better way. But, Mr. Nandasiri managed to turn the tables. While we were continuing studies, our elder brothers and sisters started a journal called ‘The Horizon’. We wrote stories to that journal and Mr. Nandasiri photocopied them from the nearest town, which is 40 kilometers away from my village. By a stroke of good luck, the US embassy found out about the journal through an article which was written by Mr. Gamini Akmemana for a public English newspaper in Sri Lanka. The US embassy helped us with a 486 model computer and a dot-matrix printer, along with some computer books.
Mr. Nandasiri started teaching us about computers with the knowledge he gained from reading those books, as he himself did not have enough knowledge about computers. Each student got 5 minutes to operate the computer under Mr. Nandasiri’s guidance. This was a fantastic experience for us children of poor farmers.
With Nandasiri sir’s leaving public school, we were really sad since nobody could do Nandasiri sir’s job there. We did not give up our way. We got together as a team and talked him to arrange an English class for us. He accepted our request and started the class under a huge mango tree in his garden. and we did not forget to continue the journal too. A family called Gaminitilake donated a used computer to our English class and we stared a website with their help and uploaded it from the town. Through the website, we got a big publicity throughout the world. It was a big revolution of us. Lot of donors came to us and helped to improve our English and computer knowledge. Eventually we could build a small computer room with the support of donors and the capacity of our parents. This was our journey……
Today we have a modern computer Lab that was donated by Mr & Mrs. Charles. And we could build a tower to connect to the Internet from our village since we had to travel 80 kilometers up and down to access internet from the nearest city ‘Anuradhapura’.
However, now I am 19 years old and I am confident that we can do something for our village from the knowledge we gained during a period of about nine years from Horizon Lanka.
About ten months ago, I realised one of the dream, in my life. I could travel to two countries for a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) training. I never had been out from this small island. But I was lucky to travel to Laos and New Delhi in India with the sponsorship of ICT Agency of Sri Lanka. During that training, we could see practically their operations and the way a BPO company meets the clients’ demand, on time with good quality. Eventually we ended the training and returned to Sri Lanka with the mind of starting our BPO Company in Mahawilachchiya. After a training period of three months, we had an opportunity to start a BPO company in rural Mahawilachchiya village. A foundation called FARO (Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities) is helping us in the initial stage to run the company. Already we have started the company named OnTime Technologies (Pvt) Ltd. John Keells is a major client of us.
We also are discussing with Dialog Telekom Ltd. and Singer Sri Lanka to get some more work for our youth. Around 50 youths are being trained to take up BPO jobs from Mahavilachchiya. Mahavilachchiya has very good infrastructure like a modern computer lab with 512 KBPS internet connection, 50 computers in the village households – 30 of them are connected to Internet through mesh technology – and 7 Wi-Fi zones in the village where you can use your laptops. Through our company, we are offering job opportunities for the youths in the village. This is a big revolution in the village and we are happy to say. This is what we wanted to do. However, we could do it. Now we are using same Horizon Lanka building and Horizon Lanka equipments. In the future, we hope to develop our company as the largest BPO company in Sri Lanka and build a huge building and develop as an our owned company. Nirosh Manjula, who trained with me in Laos and India and I am running this company.
I take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped us to success this journey.
Horizon Lanka Foundation
The Horizon Lanka Foundation was established in 1998 because of the determination of a group of children from the rural village of Mahavilachchiya. Their thirst for knowledge and educational advancement led them to the door of Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka (now CEO of HL Foundation), their former English teacher in the public school. Thus began an after school club providing children further education in English and computers. It has become a popular place for many children of the village. Since 1998, the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out. As well as providing an all round education to the village children at Horizon Lanka Academy, they have expanded into the Information Age and now service the entire community with their computer lab, which has 24h Internet access. In 2001, the website www.horizonlanka.org was launched by the children of Horizon Lanka Academy, opening a window to the world.
HLF is also responsible for beginning a project, which is bringing PCs to the homes of the villagers of Mahavilachchiya. So far more than 30 homes have been furnished with a computer and this is increasing monthly. MicroScholarships is a project of the Horizon Lanka foundation that aims to help deserving students in their education. Many capable students in rural Sri Lanka are forced to interrupt their schooling because of financial difficulties. MicroScholarships ensure that every child covered under the scheme gets a quality education and a happy childhood. Under it, volunteers offer financial assistance that gives the child a small amount of money every month. The efforts, funded purely by kind donations and sponsorship, are now providing over 160 students of the village with computing skills, access to the Internet, PCs in their homes, an Academy to improve their education specializing in ICT and English and most importantly, giving the children and community fresh hope for their futures.
Nishantha Kamaladasa CEO, Distance Learning Centre Ltd
Computer literacy and the English language skills are necessary to build a competent employee required by the corporate sector. However this competency is absent in many educated youth. This is in spite of increased government and parental spending.
These two important subject areas have not reached the expected level of achievement because they also have been taught by teachers at classes but not been learnt by the students. They did not learn English or ICT because they had not used either, in the process of learning.
This dilemma reminds us about the famous Chinese proverb which says “You forget what you hear and see, but remember what you do”.
We have been teaching computer skills and English but it had no immediate use to the learner, especially to those who live in rural environments. In such an environment it is difficult to motivate them to learn and especially motivate them to consolidate what they have learnt.
Hence if we are to promote the two subjects, within the rural community, we should find out an immediate application for those, within such communities.
If ICT and English can be used to develop the village, then there is a need for the lads to learn. If there are tourists with whom they have to transact in English they would learn English. If there are enquiries for their products from foreign countries they would learn English and ICT to communicate. If the village is benefited by information provided by the web they will look in to the web. If the web allows them to get an application form (down load) that they have to go miles to collect they will search the web. If that can be filled up and sent electronically they would gladly look for the web.
There is one particular experiment that stands out with regards to English and ICT education. This was referred recently even by His Excellency the President as well, on the topic of education. He talked of the necessity of having similar initiatives in the other villages of Sri Lanka.
The interest expressed by the head of the state on the subject has brought many to think about getting similar results. However, any replication has to be tried out after careful study about the success factors. If one is careful enough to study what had happened in Mahawilachchiya he/she will find that there was more to it than teaching ICT and English. Both those essential elements were used to transact with the rest of the world to get assistance to their village. Hence both ICT and English were used. Hence those were learnt.
What the pioneers at Mahawilachchiya did was to create the necessary environment for the children to learn English and ICT. The children had something more to achieve by learning both those; other than learning for the sake of learning. They had to use those to realize the expectations of the village and the education system that was set before them. They had aspirations to meet, which they could not without English and ICT.
More than Technology and Knowledge
To take this kind of initiative you also need a person more than an English teacher with ICT literacy. It requires a person who is environment sensitive and also with a knack for self learning.
Contents are taught at School. But you need to understand the context in which you are supposed to apply those contents. Contexts have to be self-learnt by being sensitive to the environment and by engaging with it. It is learnt in the process of dealing with it. Most of our school products fail in this experiment. They are scared to interact and learn; they expect somebody to spoon feed them as what was done in the school. But contexts cannot be taught; they are different; they are time and space bound.
Only entrepreneurship will provide this initiative of interacting with the context with view of learning it.
It is difficult to teach entrepreneurship but you can identify the potential entrepreneurs and empower them.
Entrepreneur at Mahawilachchiya
Mahawilachchiya had such an entrepreneur in the name of Nanda Wanninayaka. We need to have similar entrepreneurs in the villages that we are going to replicate the same (e-village program). Once selected, they have to be empowered. They will then join with English teachers and ICT literates to create the e-village.
Identifying and Empowering Entrepreneurs
Hence it is suggested that we put some effort in identifying these entrepreneurs in the selected villages and empower them through a facilitation program, where brain storming sessions would be the basic methodology in getting them oriented towards the initiative.
Distance Learning Centre Ltd, where I work, had undertaken two successful programs in empowering such entrepreneurs. Our experience had been that empowering entrepreneurs is not hard but identifying and selecting them is. The reason is that they are not available in large numbers given the education and training environment that exist in the country.
E-village program can meet the expectations of the educationists with this kind of intervention (identifying and empowering entrepreneurs who will use the two tools- English and ICT- in bringing a change in the village). Secondary Education Modernization Project has understood this position very much and is in the process of facilitating this process.
The same model could be applied to other subjects as well. The motto should be that one should use something if he wants to learn it.
COLOMBO: President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday urged the teaching community to serve the poor and the less-privileged students in the remotest areas of the country and thereby protect the country’s ‘Free Education’ mechanism.
President Rajapaksa was speaking at the handing over of appointment letters to Diploma Holders in Teaching to 2,599 new diplomates.
Making a symbolic handing over of appointment letters to a selected number of teachers who had successfully completed their training and qualified to receive the ‘Diploma in Teaching’ for 2007, the President asserted that his Government aims to provide equal opportunities in education to all, sans any irregularities, irrespective of one’s race, religion or region.
“A deficiency of Tamil medium teachers did exist in the past, but we took immediate steps to remedy the shortage. We appointed Tamil stream teachers in the North-East and the estate schools. Irrespective of the region you are now appointed to, go and serve happily sans any prejudice of race, religion and caste, or whether they are rich or poor.
Don’t confine them only to rote learning but identify their talents, and develop not only their knowledge but also their attitudes, and produce a creative younger generation,” the President said.
He pointed out that around 500,000 students had sat the G.C.E. O/L last year and around 25,000 had failed in all subjects they offered.
He asked why this was so and directed the Education Minister Susil Premajayantha to take remedial steps to avert such a situation next year.
“These failures are however not the offspring of teachers, who make sure that their children are through.
If that same effort is made in imparting education to all students of the school, we can make Sri Lanka one of the most literate countries of the world,” the President opined.
Recollecting the ‘success story’ of Mahawilachchiya Central College in Anuradhapura, and its teacher Nanda Wanninayaka, the President urged the teaching fraternity to emulate the exemplary teacher who has performed wonders and revolutionised the lifestyle there in Information Technology and English.
The President noted that ‘Teaching’ was per se a great service and a noble profession, instead of being only a job. He urged the new youthful appointees to refrain from seeking transfers to locations close to their homes.
The President said that whatever crises are encountered, his Government will never cut the funds allocated to education. “I view the uplift of education not as a duty but as a profound responsibility of the Government,” he added.
Chancellor of the Kelaniya University Ven. Velamitiyawe Kusaladhamma Thera, Western Province Chief Minister Reginald Cooray, Education Minister Susil Premajayantha and Ministry Secretary Ariyarathna Hewage also spoke.
Explorers Foundation awards are intended to recognize and advance the work of individuals who through their vision and action contribute to a world fit for explorers. These awards have ranged from $5,000 to $500 U.S. dollars. During 2007 we expect to make another twenty awards. Eventually, we expect the evolving pattern of awards to reveal the importance of this question: How can we build and sustain a world fit for explorers and fit ourselves to inhabit such a world? Through our investments we expect to learn to answer this question with ever better vision, logic, and wisdom. If you share our belief that the character of the curious adventurer whose quests are governed by strong integrity is the heart of all possible civilizations, then please contact us about becoming a fellow investor. —Leif Smith, President, Explorers Foundation
Nanda Wanninayaka “Wanni”, Sri Lanka, Horizon Lanka
Wanni decided that the children of his rural village needed good education. He began with a few students, using a single bench as a classroom. After a few years the school had come to the point where it could make good use of full-time high-speed connection to the internet. The village is far from such a connection. A radio tower needed to be built. We helped fund it. The tower has been providing good service for a few years now.
Horizon Lanka Foundation – website Horizon Lanka Academy – website The High-Speed Internet Connection Tower – photo
Henry Okiria, Soroti, Uganda, Learning Empowers Uganda
Henry Okiria and Steve Elliott (board member) developed a plan to offer twenty farmers near Soroti a class on how to become bee keepers and to help them get started. We funded the class, the construction of hives, and the purchase of some initial supplies. Steve designed, printed and shipped labels for the honey jars. The bees worked pro-bono, happy to have new hives.
Graduates of the Bee-Keeping Class – photo
Teso’s All Natural Honey – Jar Labels – illustration
James C. Bennett, The Anglosphere Institute, Lyons, Colorado
Jim wrote a book, The Anglosphere Challenge, 2004, about the evolution and maintenance of boundaries among individuals and groups. Shortly after the publication of the book, a weblog, “Albion’s Seedlings”, was begun by Jim’s Anglosphere Institute. Our award recognizes the quality of this weblog.
“An Anglosphere Primer – Explorers Foundation glyph
“An Anglosphere Primer” – pdf file
Albion’s Seedlings – weblog
Bibliography accompanying The Anglosphere Challenge – pdf file
Mark Frazier, Openworld, Inc., Washington, D.C.
For many years Mark Frazier has pioneered the concept of free zones and has been involved in their development all over the world. Inspired by the work of Hernando de Soto, author of The Mystery of Capital, Mark devised a GPS & video camera enabled land registration system that could develop from the grass roots upward until inert capital latent in untitled property in land and structures could be brought to life as working assets.
Openworld, Inc. – website
Suggested Reading – webpage
Jeff Rubin & Joni Sievert, Alliance for Holistic Aging, Denver, Colorado
We are interested in inter-generational exchange of ideas and visions of use to explorers in many fields. Jeff & Joni are building an organization that can make a contribution.
Alliance for Holistic Aging – website
Yasuhiko Genku Kimura, Vision in Action, San Pedro, California
Yasuhiko Genku Kimura presented a lecture in Denver, November 8, 2006, “Authenic Thinking: The Basis for a Life of Passion”. This theme, in many forms and ways of speaking, goes to the heart of the emergence of freeorder, and will be the reason for many of our future investments. Yasuhiko generously spent a few days with us, during which time his presence provoked fascinating discussions.
Description of the Lecture – webpage
Vision in Action – website
Articles by Yasuhiko Genku Kimura – webpage
One of the most talked about topics in ICT4D today is the Mahawilachchiya project. A joint venture by Horizon Lanka and ICTA, it is slated to be the first model e-village in Sri Lanka. The village which doesn’t even have fixed telephone coverage, is connected to the Internet, 24/7, by a wireless mesh technology. The decentralized and relatively inexpensive mesh happens to be the first wireless outdoor network to be implemented in Sri Lanka.
So far Horizon Lanka has helped to furnish over 30 homes with used desktop computers which the villages help themselves to access the Internet. One of the immediate outcomes is that the children have started browsing for information to help them with their studies and have started using VoIP.
The older generation has started reading Sinhala and Tamil newspapers. (There are some interesting videos on you tube composed by the children – visit youtube.com and search for Mahavilachchiya)
When the project was first proposed in December 2004, the project objectives included an E-channelling and hospital connection, facilitating the search of employment opportunities, community chat, connectivity between institutions and people, and even an online market for whole sale buyers.
Therefore, in spite the great leap taken forward in implementing this rural e-village (and acknowledging it all the way), Mahawilachchiya still has a long way to go. And if it’s going to sustain after consuming the given grants, then villages need to be given a better reason to access the internet than just browsing information and reading the news.
The most important facet to realize is that Mahawilachchiya cannot hold by itself. The Internet has an impact of the quality of life only when it’s backed up by services directly related to the villagers well being. Government services have to be accessible via the Internet, people related to the village have to be connected and contactable via the Internet and similar peer communities should be brought up simultaneously so that the villages don’t feel alienated inside the web.
From language issues to IT awareness, it’s not an easy task to initiate an e-village from scratch. Good will and infra-structure is an excellent starting point for now, and Horizon Lanka’s past efforts in providing education for the children in Mahawilachchiya in an unconventional way must have been an inspirational factor in convincing the villages to embrace the new change as well.
But in terms of e-governance, e-services and e-community the rest of the country is far behind and desperately needs to keep up, otherwise the efforts in Mahawilachchiya would be in vain.
The humbleness and abject poverty of the people of Ceylon were themes Leonard Woolf touched when he wrote his famous novel, ‘Village in the jungle’, many decades ago. Even in this era of modern technology, there are numerous such isolated villages in Sri Lanka, which are locked in time and far removed from the outside world. Ashoka Weerasinghe of our sister paper Rivira, went in search of one such village, situated in an isolated corner of the Anuradhapura district. Though from the exterior this village is typical of any such ‘village in the jungle’, when one takes a closer look the differences are startling. Due to the vision and dedication of a young English master who came to the village a few years ago, the place has now evolved in to an e-Village, connected to the world through the internet and boasting of an IT centre where dozens of village children learn the skills they will need to compete in this Information Age.
Even after arriving at Anuradhapura, following an arduous journey, we had more than four kilometres left to travel to reach our destination. The road rapidly deteriorated once we moved out from the ancient capital and after a while became a hazardous path full of potholes. The mere skeletons of houses on either side of this rural road were good indicators of the average wealth of the people in the region. Seeing the pathetic conditions in the area, it was clear that this region had been forgotten by the authorities, both political and administrative, for a very long time.
We were stopped at a military checkpoint where we were asked about our destination. “On our way to the Horizon Lanka” was our answer and the security men seemed immediately satisfied, allowing us to proceed without any further questions. We finally reached our destination, several kilometres after passing the Mannar junction. We had arrived at Sri Lanka’s first and only e-Village situated at Mahawilachchiya.
It does not take long for a visitor to realise that Mahawilachchiya is far removed from the material comforts familiar to us. Though it is named as a model village with internet facilities and computers, these are not immediately visible from the exterior. Instead, what is seen is the abject poverty of the village. The tumbling shacks, the pothole filled roads and the absolute isolation are more visible to an outsider than anything else. Ninety five percent of the village’s inhabitants are farmers making a meagre living if the rain gods are kind to them.
Though politicians frequent this isolated hamlet during election time, they are now as rare as proper houses in this impoverished village. It seems that the farmers cultivate their lands more out of habit, since it is the only option they have to make a living. Even though the people in this area are undergoing numerous hardships just to make ends meet, they all greeted us with warm smiles, which made us feel welcome in their remote village. Following the warmth of their smiles we went in search of the beginnings of this Horizon Lanka, a venture which has revolutionalised rural life in this village.
The humble beginnings of the project go back to 1998, when a young English teacher got an appointment to the village school. Nanda Wanninayaka who hailed from the same region had to undergo numerous difficulties to educate himself, in the English language. The young teacher commenced his work with much zeal even though he had to teach under a tree most of the time. Many teachers who were appointed to the Saliayamala Vidyalaya, were looking for transfers to better areas from the moment they arrived. Wanninayaka however was different. He was determined to make a difference with his young charges. With time the school got a computer as a donation. The English teacher voluntered to double as the computer master as well. Using this computer, Wanninayaka designed a website called ‘Horizon Lanka’. The village did not have internet access. Nor did it have telephone lines at that time. The students and the teacher had to travel to Anuradhapura to carry out their work on the website.
During these years Wanninayaka and his students used to come to Anuradhapura, and even Colombo, for English workshops. The rural students were astonished with the level of facilities enjoyed by their city counterparts. They learned much from their enthusiastic master about computers and English during these visits. Many of the students in this remote corner of Sri Lanka, passed their English language paper at the Ordinary Level exam thanks to the tireless efforts of their teacher. Five years after arriving at Mahawilachchiya, Wanninayaka decided to quit his job as a school teacher in order to concentrate promoting Information Technology in the village.
The biggest challenge Wanninayaka faced was to get internet facilities to the village which did not even have a telephone connection. By this time he had received a substantial amount of funds from various foreign donors who had read about the Horizon Lanka project through the internet. The website www.horizonlanka.org gave details of the proposed IT projects. The former teacher used to come to Colombo with his laptop and work on his future plans. He managed to raise Rs 500,000 through donations. The money was required to acquire the RLL radio link network. A tower was constructed, which allowed communication between Mahawilachchiya and Anuradhapura, giving internet access to the village. A young British lady who had come to Mahawilachchiya as a teacher had been very impressed by this initiative and convinced her parents to fund a building to house an IT centre.
As a result of the generosity of the young lady’s parents, Mahawilachchiya received a two storeyed IT centre while the communications tower connected this remote village to the World Wide Web. The place now named the Horizon Lanka Centre provides the opportunity for students of different ages to familiarise themselves with the internet and computers. After school and during weekends, youngsters throng to this place to experience this new technology. Under the watchful guidance of Vanninayake, children as young as six are now using this facility. Most of them are improving their English language skills thanks to the centre. Some students frequently come for workshops held in Colombo. Computers and English which were once the privileges of city children are now being mastered by their less affluent counterparts at Mahavillachchiya. Currently nearly 100 students are using the facilities at the Horizon Lanka Centre.
Wanninayaka did not stop at constructing the IT centre. He had a dream of providing computers to the children at their homes, from where they could access the internet. With funding coming from abroad, he managed to build four more RLL radio link towers in the village while providing 28 households with computers. Two more schools in the area were also provided with the facilities and even the Mahawilachchiya police station now uses the internet. This is a far cry from the other police stations in the area.
Meanwhile, many have now volunteered to work at the Horizon Lanka Centre, among them being Wanninayaka’s own English teacher, Ranjith Pushpakumara. “We hope to expand this scheme to give a broad professional knowledge to the students,” says Wanninayaka who hopes that the students can eventually find jobs in the IT sector. The pioneer of the project says that the teaching methods at his centre are very different, where the children are given an opportunity for a hands on experience. Over 50% of the students are provided a grant in the form of a scholarship. With donations from well wishers, the staff has managed to include this money in a scheme called microscholarships, for the duration of time, the students are learning at the centre.
We were able to talk to some of the youngsters, enthusiastically working at their computers. Isuri Nirmani who is in year seven was actively involved in making her bio data when we met her. “I’m learning PowerPoint, Word and web designing software,” said the bubbly 11-year-old. She was joined by several of her friends who shared their experiences with us. These youngsters are now sending e-mails to their friends just as any average kid familiar with the internet.
The ambitious young team running the Horizon Lanka Centre are aspiring for greater heights. They have plans on the pipelines to give an opportunity for the farmers in the area to come online to sell their produce. An impossible venture some might say but that would have been the same thought which many would have expressed if they were told two years ago that someone hopes to provide internet facilities to a village in the Anuradhapura jungles.
“I believe that our opportunities are limited because of the lack of technology and the knowledge of the English language, ” says Nanda Wanninayaka.“As a teacher I didn’t want to limit my students’ knowledge to books. That’s why I see English and technology as the gateway to the future.”
We wish this dynamic young man, his staff and most importantly the students under their care, the very best. May their example be a source of inspiration to others.