The Future of the Meshed Up e-Village – Sunday Observer – December 24, 2006

Mahawilachchiya
Mahawilachchiya
Mahawilachchiya

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.

“e-Villages”: The future of development – Financial Times – Daily Mirror – November 09, 2006

daily-mirror-logoThe Mesh Network Project in Mahawilachchiya, Anuradhapura was launched recently at the Horizon Lanka Foundation.

In January 2005, Horizon Lanka Foundation and Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) received a grant from the Pan Asia R&D Grants Program for the deployment of a community mesh network for 30 homes in the village of Mahavilachchiya. Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd (ETPL) was responsible for the implementation of the project.

Mesh networking consists of a series of smart digital devices called routers or ‘Meshboxes’, which use infrared or radio waves, to carry high speed wireless connection over a wide area. This type of networking is unique, and is currently used by local financial institutions such as banks to transfer data between their branches.

The Mahawilachchiya project signified the pilot project for ICTA’s e-Village concept. A small village in the North Central Province, with limited access to resources and few opportunities for its youth, benefited greatly through the introduction of ICT facilities. Through dedicated teachers, individuals and organizations working in partnership, the village youth were empowered with the knowledge and skills needed to access means for a better quality of life. As a result of these efforts the village secondary level students of the village are now being commissioned to design websites and currently earn more than their parents who are mostly farmers.

Establishing the Mahawilachchiya e-Village with its high density of computers marks a significant chapter in the ICT for development (ICT4D) field in the country. Over 400 rural students receive ICT education and it is the only rural Sri Lankan village with ICT connectivity 24 hours a day. This unique environment thus resounds an important message to marginal level communities all over the world. ICTA’s Programme Manager “eSociety Development Initiative, Chitranganie Mubarak commented, “Mahawilachchiya is an outstanding example of promoting inclusion through the use of ICTs. This latest project, which has given Internet access to poor rural families through a mesh network, will certainly be an impetus to other villages.”

Internet access is largely perceived as a way to reduce isolation, provide educational and economic opportunities, and ultimately improve the quality of life. Common challenges such as high capital and operating costs have limited rural access to ICTs to a handful of heavily subsidized and supported projects in Sri Lanka. This innovative integrated strategy, based on existing technology and rural social structures, addresses a variety of challenges and could ultimately aid large numbers of villagers to gain this vital access to information and knowledge.

Prof. V. K. Samaranayake, Chairman, ICTA said, “In keeping with His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s efforts to utilise technology to rapidly develop and empower rural communities, ICTA is keen on replicating this successful model in other villages across the country. Villages with limited resources and opportunities for their youth will be identified, and provided with ICT facilities for e-learning, e-commerce, and other services. ICTA will work in collaboration with partners to bring in a greater resource pool of expertise and services, to develop the village and allow for innovative social mobility amongst the members of the community. ICTA congratulates Horizon Lanka Foundation and its founder Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka for their continuous efforts in realizing the e-Sri Lanka vision.”