Mr. Ryan Soderberg from the United States of America volunteered at Horizon Academy – Panama operated by the Horizon Lanka Foundation in July, August 2019.
Ms Champika Bandara from Aurora, Chicago, Illinois the United States of America volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in July, 2017.
“I have been living in the United States for 16 years and every other summer my family and I go back my birthplace of Sri Lanka to visit our family. However, this time, my son Thimira Bandara had the idea to help out and give back to the people of Sri Lanka. Since 2001 we had been helping the Horizon Lanka Foundation by giving donations but, we never had gone to their schools and helped out. So, this time, when we went to Sri Lanka, I thought it was a good idea to actually go to the schools and help out with my son.
Our plan was to leave Colombo on a Thursday night and reach Anuradhapura Friday morning. This gave us enough time to see all the Buddhist monuments, like the Ruwanweli Seya stupa and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. After we had time to worship, the next day we were off to Tantirimale, a small farming village an hour from Anuradhapura. We arrived around 10:30 and as soon as we came, the children seemed to be ecstatic to see us. In fact, they had arrived at 7:30 out of sheer enthusiasm to learn. This isn’t seen much in the western world, as everything is handed and opportunities are can be found everywhere. Seeing the dedication in these kids made me feel very happy as it reminded to me of my teaching years when I used to run a Montessori from my house in Kadawatha. It has always been a goal of mine to educate Sri Lanka’s young people because in the future we will depend on them to keep our beautiful country running.
At first, we played fun games, sang songs and danced all to get to know the children and to make them feel comfortable with us. Then, later in the day and the next day, while my son taught computers to the older kids, I had an open discussion with the smaller children on what they wanted to be when they grow older. With this I gave them advice on how to be helpful individuals to their communities and their country. I taught them about the importance of keeping their environment clean and being kind to others. I believe it is important to emphasize this with children because they are our future.
Even though the conflict (Civil War) in the area has been over for a while and the town of Tantirimale seems to be more advanced than ever before, the people there still face many hardships. When talking to the locals many mentioned the water issue and the lack of resources needed to take care of their crops. Amazingly, the village is beautiful nonetheless, however with such hardships, it is only fair that the children receive the best education possible. Thanks to Mr. Wanninayaka and his volunteers, Tantirimale is becoming a wonderful institution for kids to learn computers and English, which is a necessary skill in the real life.
Overall my experience with the foundation and the children was wonderful. Not only was I able to teach the children but they were also able to teach my son and I a few things. I am hoping more Sri Lankans here in the United States and other countries will come together and help out the future of Sri Lanka. There are many more things these children could use, from books to laptops, and from what I have seen these children will put good use to them.”
Champika Sumithraarachchi – the United States of America
Thimira Bandara from The United States of America volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in July, 2017.
“Being born in Sri Lanka but getting an education in America, I consider myself lucky because due to some sort of miracle I was given a good education with endless opportunities, but I believe there is no point of having the knowledge I gained from my studies if I wasn’t able to share it. When I was notified that I would be able to go to Sri Lanka for a research, I made it a priority that someway somehow I would be able to share my knowledge with those who do not have the same opportunities as me.
My experience with the Horizon Lanka Foundation was a wonderful one as I got to spend time teaching children some of the basics of Microsoft Office. I only stayed for two days, but in those two days I believe the kids at the Horizon Academy, Tantirimale enjoyed our stay and learned a lot. I strongly believe in giving back to one’s community and I am appreciative that Horizon Lanka made that possible.
For the most part, communicating with the students wasn’t too bad because I was able to speak a decent amount of Sinhalese, enough to keep a basic conversation going, but sometimes I did find myself having a hard time explaining certain things. Thankfully my cousin, who lives in Sri Lanka, had joined us and was able to translate the things I wasn’t able to communicate.
I wished I had planned a more constructive lesson plan because at times I noticed the kids were feeling a little bored. Part of this was because I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t know what the knowledge level the students have. For future references, maybe the classes can be organized better with a set schedule. Not only will this make it easier for volunteers but it will also teach the children about organization and time management. This is often implemented in western schools because it provides necessary skills needed in the workplace. However next time we come I will be sure to come more prepared and create a more impactful lesson plan that I believe will give the students maximum benefit.
Currently, I am planning on organizing a pen pal event with the kids at our local temple. They will be able to email the students at Tantirimale in English back and forth and create relationships with the students. Hopefully, I can get more Sri Lankan kids here in the US involved to help their fellow brothers and sisters.
Overall, our stay was wonderful; there were a plenty of activities to do in Tantirimale. My cousin especially liked bathing in the river while I thought the view from the top of the rock was breathtaking. Tantirimale is a very beautiful location and everyone there was very nice. This experience has been an eye-opener for me as it has taught me not to take what I have for granted and to always do what I can do for others. The goal is to get more of my Sri Lankan peers here in the United States to also get involved and also make a difference in these kids’ lives.”
Thimira Bandara – The United States of America
Volunteering with Horizon Academy, Tantirimale was such a unique experience and I’m so glad that I did it. We spent time at the public schools as well as the Academy and found the students so engaging and sweet. They were quick to laugh and smile, and generally lovely students that wanted to learn. Upon meeting us they would be shy, but this lasted only a few minutes until they broke into big smiles and started talking or playing with us. At the public school, there were often large classes with a range of abilities, so it was important to be creative and fun to keep the children’s attentions. There was only one English teacher for the whole school, so doing a few lessons here and there helped him, and helped the students practice their speech with a native speaker.
The Horizon Academy – Tantirimale was more structured with smaller classes. The students would come about once a week for around 2 hours. Each class was divided into Computer Class and English Class. Children in the surrounding villages have limited access to computers, so Computer Class is an important part of the program. Some students were quick to learn or already had some knowledge, while others were still learning how to use the mouse properly and select colors. Once again, they were eager to learn though and worked together in pairs or group to complete tasks set by myself or my husband. After Computer Class, we would do different English activities depending on the age and ability of the class. Once they got past their shyness, they got really involved in the games and spoke with us as much as they could. Supplies are minimal at the moment, so again it’s imperative that you are creative and fun to keep them interested and excited. Saying that, the students are so sweet it’s easy just to hang out with them and have fun.
Living with a local family is another aspect of the experience that makes it so unique. The family we stayed with were wonderful and truly made us part of their family. Even with little language between us, we were able to form a bond with them and get to understand their village and lifestyle. They were eager to learn from us but also show us about their culture which made it feel like I genuine exchange of ideas. In the village we stayed, there had not been foreigners before, so there was a lot of interest from neighbors. Often you’d find yourself sitting in a chair reading or eating being watched by a few people. It may sound uncomfortable, but they are just excited and curious. Over time they get used to you, but they’ll still give you big smile and possibly offer you food or drink. Village life is very quiet and can be far from other shops so it’s good to be aware of this beforehand. I really loved my family and it was really sad to leave them but I know I’ll always have a Sri Lankan family now.
Anne Marie Connolly – The United States of America (Volunteered in May 2017)