When It Rains, It Pours – Dialog Axiata Provides 4G Mobile Coverage to Mahawilachchiya

Dialog Axiata technicians checking Dialog 4G signals inside the Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya

Dialog Axiata technicians checking Dialog 4G signals inside the Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya

When it rains, they say, it pours. That is what happened to Mahawilachchiya because of Horizon Lanka Foundation. Mahawilachchiya is (was) a backward village situated bordering the sprawling Wilpattu National Park. If the name of the village was mentioned anywhere else other than in Mahawilachchiya, it was because of it being constantly targeted by the Tamil Tigers terrorists from 1985 to 2009 till the permanent peace was achieved by defeating the entire terrorist outfit thanks to the political leadership of the former president Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. During the wartime, a numerous terrorist attacks were inflicted and the police, army and the civil security guards were injured, maimed or paid the ultimate price for the nation as a reason. A number of terrorists also were killed by the security forces. A considerable number of villagers also were either killed in cold blood and some were kidnapped and only a few could return by deceiving the terrorists. A several parents of our students also were either killed or kidnapped.

People of Mahawilachchiya was not connected to the outside world through a communication network and only the Police Station and the Post Office had limited telephone access using radio link technology. One had to wait a several hours to talk to someone at a very high price from the village post office.

When I started Horizon Lanka under a huge mango tree in my ancestral garden in 1998, there was no telephone coverage. I had to go to Colombo by spending almost a whole day to Colombo to just check emails and update our website. The distance from Mahawilachchiya to Colombo is 240 km but the bus ride on dilapidated road network in the country those days wore me out wasting the whole day on the road.

I had the luck of meeting Mr. Supun Weerasinghe from Dialog Axiata in 2002. He was then a young executive and now the CEO of Dialog Axiata, Sri Lanka’s leading telecommunication provider.  Dialog sent a team of engineers and fixed a special unit to provide mobile coverage within a 50-meter radius around Horizon Lanka’s small computer lab. That was the only place people could use their Dialog mobile phones. Then Dialog provided 2G mobile coverage to Mahawilachchiya in November, 2006. Then came the 3G. The latest addition to the line up was comprehensive 4G coverage to Mahawilachchiya from Dialog Axiata. The specialty of this is that Mahawilachchiya hamlet got all these technologies long before even bigger towns in Sri Lanka got them. The main reason to get all these new technologies to Mahawilachchiya is the existence of the Horizon Lanka Foundation and my strong links with Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya – the regional CEO for the South Asian Region of the Axiata Group Bhd., Asia’s second largest telecommunications company and Mr. Supun Weerasinghe, the young CEO of Dialog Axiata. Dialog has been a very big pillar of our success since 2002 and I hope the relationship would be even stronger in time to come as we are an organization which depends on new technology since the inception of the small English class under a tree in 1998. Dialog Axiata PLC has assisted Horizon Lanka Foundation over the years whenever we requested their assistance. Read more about it at http://www.horizonlanka.org/en/?s=Dialog+telekom&submit=Search

I thank Mr. Nuwan Samaranayake, a Sri Lankan American living in Houston, Texas, the United States for assisting me in this quest of wider mobile coverage and stronger data speed with Dialog. I also thank the whole Dialog Axiata team for being such a friendly and effective company. Extending 4G coverage to Mahawilachchiya was not in the immediate pipelines of the company priority list but the need to livestream Horizon Lanka’s annual concert, “A Rainbow of Cultures – Horizon Lanka Mega Concert – 2017” on December 31, 2017 and the planned launch of Horizon Academy website on January 01, 2018 and most importantly, the scheduled launch of Horizon Virtual Academy project that would allow anyone from anywhere in the world access both the recorded and the live ICT and language lessons from its website free of charge (only for the year 2018 – the users will have to pay an affordable subscription fee from January 2019.)

What will be in store for Mahawilachchiya next from Dialog? Maybe 5G … … … ?

Nanda Wanninayaka – Chairman & the CEO of Horizon Lanka Foundation

Dialog Axiata technicians checking Dialog 4G signals inside the Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya
Dialog Axiata technicians checking Dialog 4G signals inside the Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya

ADSL Internet for Horizon Academy – Tantirimale

Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale

Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale

Horizon Lanka Foundation started its second branch of Horizon Academy in Tantirimale, a village in Mahawilachchiya Divisional Secretariat Division in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka on May 01, 2017 (3 ½ months ago.) We started it with the minimum facilities. We rented the building space for 10,000 LKR (6 USD) per month and moved  5 PCs and the furniture from the Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya as a short-term loan facility. (Now Horizon Academy in Mahawilachchiya has only 5 PCs as a result of this loan a number which is not sufficient at all for its 50 students.)

The next challenge was to get internet access to the Horizon Academy, Tantirimale. We did not have the funds necessary. But then, Joe and Sarah Campbell, two British volunteers who volunteered at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale from July to August, 2017 donated 6,000 LKR (40 USD) for the cause of getting internet connectivity to the Academy. With that money, we could buy the equipment needed for ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) internet connection. We could also network the 5 computers within that budget. Now the children can use internet with all 5 PCs we have here. We thank Joe and Sarah Campbell for this generous donation.

Now that we have internet access, we will line up a range of activities to utilize the facility for the students’ and the villagers’ benefits. Every student will have an email ID, a webpage, a blog, a Skype account, a Twitter and a Facebook account. We will adhere to the global standards of age limits for each of these tools and monitor the way the students use them and guide them properly.

The total monthly cost of the internet bill is around 2,000 LKR (13 USD) and we hope someone who reads this post would help us with the cost. Once we attain full financial sustainability, we hope that the expenses for internet can be paid with the students’ course fees. But it is too early to reach that goal. If you are ready to donate for the monthly internet bill, please contact us through info@horizonlanka.org. or call us through the telephone numbers in Contact Us page.

Joe and Sarah Campbell
Joe and Sarah Campbell
Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale
Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale
Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale
Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale
Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale
Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale
Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale
Children using internet at Horizon Academy, Tantirimale

Please Help Pay Our Internet Bill This Year

Facebook Chat

Facebook Chat

Zachary Grenzowski (Zach) was the first foreign volunteer to visit Horizon Lanka this year. He volunteered at Horizon Lanka from January to February over here. He taught us English, computers and American football. We loved his teaching as he was very kind and effective teacher for us.

While we were doing a night English class with Mr. Nanda few days ago (on May 12, 2016), Mr. Nanda said, “Zach is online. Would you like to talk to him?” We were overjoyed to hear our beloved teacher Mr. Zach’s voice. But Facebook offered us more than the voice. We saw him on our big multimedia screen through  live video chat too. It was an exciting moment for us. We talked to him for a long time and he promised to talk to us on every Thursday. From that day we were in love with Facebook. We started creating each of us a Facebook account. We love to use Facebook for good things. People say Facebook is bad but our teachers help us using it under their supervision. Each of us has an email ID too and we communicate with our friends, former volunteers, donors, etc. through emails. It helps improve our English and communication skills.

The problem we have here is that there is only two internet dongles and two smart phones we can log on to Internet only with one PC at a time. We already pay around 14,500 LKR (100 USD) per month as our Internet bill to use our emails, update our website, update our individual  Facebook pages, update our Flickr stream and YouTube stream and all our other needs. Our annual expense on the Internet is 180,000 LKR (1230 USD.) It would be great if someone who reads this post can donate that amount for our organization so that we can learn more English by using Internet more. If we have Internet constantly, we can talk to our former volunteers and the other people our staff introduce us. You can donate to us through https://www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/empowering-children-in-rural-sri-lanka.

Mr. Nanda said that each of us can have our own webpage, blog and a lot more if we have a sponsor for our Internet bill. We love to use Internet more. When we use Internet, we can learn English and computers fast. So, we hope you would help us.

Aruni Apsara Wewalage, aruni@horizonlanka.org Grade 08, Horizon Lanka

Zachary Grenzowski
Zachary Grenzowski on multimedia screen at Horizon Lanka

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Lonely lives reconnected in Mahawilachchiya

Kumar reading a Tamil newspaper online
Kumar reading a Tamil newspaper online

Ranjith Gunarathne

Just after the opening of the mesh network in Mahawilachchiya, I went for a walk around the village. I wanted to visit the houses where they have got mesh network facility and see how the villagers are reacting to this revolutionary technology.

Ajith Balasuriya, a home guard attached to the local police post, a real computer geek and a very good digital photographer, accompanied me. For some reason, he took me first to Kumar’s house.

Kumar is a Tamil living in Mahawilachchiya. He was born and bred, and had his primary education in Kalatththewa, Anuradhapura. Later he came to Anuradhapura city where he had his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Anuradhapura. He had to give up education as he had to become the breadwinner of his family. He wanted to ensure that his brothers and sisters get a decent education and sacrificing his opportunities for the well-being of the others was the only option he had.

Guided probably by fate Kumar happened to come to Mahawilachchiya to work at a shop, there he met Mangalika, a beautiful Sinhala village girl, and it was love at first sight. They got married shortly afterwards. He settled down at Mahawilachchiya with Mangalika and continued to support his brothers and sisters from there.

Kumar’s elder sister migrated to United Kingdom with her husband after the Black July riots in 1983 and one by one, his whole family left the country after her. Kumar could not follow them because his wife was reluctant to leave the familiar surroundings of the village where she had lived since she was born.

Kumar missed his family, his childhood friends and many other things from his former life. But he could not leave his wife Mangalika, whom he loved dearly. So, for the last 30 odd years Kumar has been living in Mahawilachchiya.

Kumar and Mangalika had decided not to let their children speak Tamil as they were living in a Sinhala village and the kids were attending a Sinhala medium school. Therefore, their children do not speak a single word of Tamil, which is their “Father Tongue”. Mangalika understands a little Tamil, but they had never spoken to each other in that language in their life together. Kumar liked reading a lot and he used to read all the Tamil newspapers he could get hold of before coming to Mahawilachchiya. But now it was very difficult to find a Tamil newspaper in Mahawilachchiya. One has to go to Anuradhapura for that. Kumar could not afford to make this trip very often. So even very reluctantly, he had to say goodbye to his favourite pastime, reading newspapers.

Kumar was a loyal husband for his wife and a caring father for their six kids, the arrival of who had kept both him and his wife very busy. Nevertheless, there existed in his inner soul an inexplicable loneliness, a nameless void, tugging at his heart, all along those thirty odd long years, Kumar admitted while he was talking to me. Fidgeting with an unlighted cigarette in his hand, with a faraway look in his eyes, he said, “At first, my wife used to ask me why I looked so unhappy at times, why I sat for long hours just by myself. I said nothing because I did not know the answer for that question myself. I had no reason for being unhappy at all. God has sent me the most loving and caring wife in the world; and I have the most adorable kids… I had every reason to be much happier than most of our neighbors. In fact, I was asking the same question from myself, why did I feel lonely amidst such a loving family…?

Then he found the answer, or to be more accurate, the remedy, for his loneliness with the advent of the mesh.

His children, all of whom are students of Horizon Lanka Academy, were very excited about this great event. However, in his heart Kumar did not share the enthusiasm or the excitement that was seething in them. What is the use of this ‘mesh’ in a remote village like ours, he thought.

The very next day, his skeptical outlook towards ‘mesh’ changed; and so did his whole life. He was idly sipping a cup of tea, sitting close to his third daughter Krishanthi, who was browsing the internet. Suddenly Kumar jumped up shouting, “Wait, hold it there!” He had seen a web page written in Tamil, his mother tongue…!

This simple incident brought about one of the biggest changes in Kumar’s life.

“I had not known that you could read Tamil newspapers over the internet.” He explained to me. “I know that was really stupid of me, I mean, with my kids using internet almost everyday at the Horizon Lanka for the past two years… They never told me about it earlier, may be because I did not ask them…” He laughed. Yes, Kumar laughs very often now, a happy Mangalika told me.

Even without his consciously knowing it, what had been bothering Kumar over the last thirty years, was the separation from his mother tongue.

Now he can read all the Tamil news papers published in the country and he can read news in Tamil on many international websites. He can listen to Tamil webcasts. For this, he learned to use the computer very fast with the help of his children. “Our father learned the basics of operating a computer starting from using the mouse properly, web browsing and chatting amazingly fast.” One of his daughters Nirmala told me.

Furthermore, he can talk with his family using ‘Skype’. He can swap photos with them through email. He got re-united with his kith and kin after thirty years thanks to the ‘mesh’ technology…! He no longer feels that inner loneliness that was killing his soul. Isn’t this enough to call him “the happiest man in Mahawilachchiya…?”