Nanda Wanninayaka’s Presentation on “ICT and Automation for Rural Development.”

Nanda Wanninayaka’s Presentation on “ICT and Automation for Rural Development.”

Nanda Wanninayaka – Chairman of the Horizon Lanka Foundation

Following is the succinct transcription of the presentation on ICT & Automation for Rural Development made by me (Nanda Wanninayaka),  at the Galadari Hotel in Colombo on December 22, 2018 at the International Conference on Information and Automation for Sustainability (ICIAfS) – 2018.

Nanda Wanninayaka

 “Good evening everybody. I am not certain as to why Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara invited me to do a presentation at an Engineers Symposium as I am not an engineer but only an artist.

I usually do not do my presentations with Microsoft PowerPoint because
Edward Tufte said, “Power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” Therefore, let us watch this video made by volunteer Pakistani artists who visited the Horizon Lanka Foundation in 2015 as it is played in the background, with a reduced soundtrack while my speech goes on.

We started Horizon Academy in Mahawilachchiya 20 years ago and now, we have branched out to 5 villages in Anuradhapura, Nuwara Eliya and Jaffna districts providing English (and other languages), ICT (and other technologies) while entertaining extracurricular activities such as playschool, fine arts, and sports.

We utilize local and foreign volunteers’ contributions extensively in our teaching. Local university students, young professionals from the IT industry and other areas of interest teach the students free of charge during weekends and also, scores of foreign volunteers teach the students during weekdays. These are still largely untapped talent that has enormous potential to take education in Sri Lanka to the next level.

At Horizon Academies we offer “edutainment” rather than the boring teaching methods used in traditional classroom-based education offered at public schools and at private tuition institutes. There is no point in repeating the public-school syllabuses, textbooks and past examination papers targeting term tests and national level exams which are once again repeated at a faster pace at private tuition classes all over again. We do not even touch those at Horizon Academies. We don’t assign homework to the students. We teach in a natural environment outside classrooms. Kids play, walk around the village, go bathing/swimming in rivers and lakes, go shopping, watch movies, go on field trips & so forth with the teachers and they learn languages and technology while doing such entertaining and exciting activities. Horizon Academy’s tagline is “The Edutainment Academy of Sri Lanka.”

Thanks to these non-conventional methods, the sons and daughters of farmers, laborers, fishermen & traders ended up being software & network engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers and professionals in other fields. Now I am very happy to hear them speak better English than I do. They have built houses, purchased vehicles and have married early (unlike waiting till the mid-30s like me), they have become totally independent at a younger age.

We at Horizon Lanka, use a lot of modern technologies for teaching. We use the internet, emailing, Instant Messenger (IM) programs, smartphones for teaching in innovative ways. We covered Mahawilachchiya with a village-wide free unlimited Wi-Fi mesh network way back in 2006, 10 years before the present government introduced limited free Wi-Fi to some hotspots in cities in Sri Lanka.

Wi-Fi Mesh Network in Mahawilachchiya – English

Wi-Fi Mesh Network in Mahawilachchiya – Sinhala

We invited Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, the then Secretary to the President, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) since he helped getting the permission to deploy the network in Mahawilachchiya during the war time and in addition, he was a well-wisher of Horizon Lanka for a long time.


Mr.
Lalith Weeratunga at Horizon Lanka Foundation, Mahawilachchiya

When he visited Mahawilachchiya to officially commission the free Wi-Fi network, we trained 3 girls & 3 boys who were 11-year-olds to do the presentation in English by utilizing laptops and slides. Mr. Weeratunga was pleasantly surprised and reported this to the then President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa about how effective & progressive Horizon Lanka Foundation was in education and technology in Mahawilachchiya. President Rajapaksa, in his capacity of the Finance Minister, included a proposal into the national budget of 2007 to allocate 100 million LKR to replicate Horizon Lanka model academies in each 300 + Divisional Secretariat Divisions in Sri Lanka. The budget was passed with a heavy majority but alas! Not a single cent came our way to Mahawilachchiya or elsewhere as a very obnoxious Sri Lankan IT professor exercised his despicable powers over the President and sabotaged the whole plan. This odious man died a few months later but did enough damage before exiting the planet.

We did not ask for the government’s help. But I know Mr. Weeratunga, in all honesty, & sincerity, desired to help and this was the reason he influenced the President. But what happened was a total tragedy for Horizon Lanka, when the government and media published this “100-million-LKR allocation” story all our regular donors came under the impression that Horizon Lanka was now well funded & taken care of, hence they diverted their help to other organizations and we were the ultimate losers.

When I was absolutely convinced that the “100-million-LKR” promise was false   (like many similar ones) and we had already lost our regular donors, I spoke to one of the officers at the Presidential Office and inquired whether I could publish a story on our website about the broken promise so that the rest of the world & our former donors would become aware of what exactly took place. But he stated something to the effect that if I did that, I would be considered as a “persona non grata” who discredits the government and will be dealt with. Well, we all know what this meant during those times.

The end result of all this being; Horizon Lanka Foundation’s funding dried up and all the good work was downgraded, eventually having to close for 3 years before we resumed it in 2014 with hardly any money in the bank account.

That, my dear friends, reminded me of one of the most famous quotes by the late American President Mr. Ronald Reagan. He said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Therefore friends, if you want to do anything for this country, do it before the government messes it up. 
Thank you very much for your attention.”

Ronald Reagan
Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara
A part of the audience at International Conference on Information and Automation for Sustainability (ICIAfS) – 2018

The First Model e-Village in Sri Lanka Paves the Way for 24-Hour Connectivity in Other Rural Communities – Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme – November 2006

Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya

Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya
Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya

Sri Lanka’s first outdoor wireless computer network is now up and running. Surprisingly, it is not in Colombo. It is not even in any of the other key places. It was installed in Mahawilachchiya, a little known village, 40 km from the nearest town Anuradhapura, and surrounded three sides by the Wilpattu jungle.

A student in the rural areas of Sri Lanka has to pay an average of Rs. 150 for 30 minutes as Internet surfing charges mainly because service is scarce in these areas. This amount does not include transportation costs and the time spent to reach the Internet café. High capital and operating costs have limited Internet access in rural Sri Lanka.

In 2005, the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka, Horizon Lanka Foundation and Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd was awarded a grant by the Pan Asia ICT R&D Grants Programme to develop a low-cost wireless broadband architecture for providing high-speed Internet access services in Mahavilachchiya, Sri Lanka.

On 4 November 2006, Mahavilachchiya, a little known village 40km from the nearest town of Anuradhapura and surrounded three sides by the Vilpattu jungle with no terrestrial or mobile phone networks, became the first village in Sri Lanka with 24-hour Internet access. Over 400 rural students also received ICT education as part of the project.

Mahavilachchiya now has more than 50 PCs and a sophisticated multimedia lab. The majority of the computers are located at the houses of the children attending the Horizon Lanka Academy. These PCs are now connected by using the “Mesh Wireless Technology”giving families direct Internet and email facilities.

Mesh networking comprises of a series of smart digital routers (Meshboxes) that are designed to carry high performance wireless Internet over a wide area using infrared or radio waves. Mesh networking is unique because instead of having a central server which determines how data is passed between computers, the mesh creates a network of equals, so individual computers find the best way to communicate with each other. All the computers are connected together to form a resilient network in such a way that the more devices there are on a network, the more routes there are through it. It can grow organically and will automatically organize itself. The ad hoc nature of the mesh makes it easy to start small and expand where necessary, without the complex reprogramming involved with adding to a traditional, top-down network. If one node were to fail, the network will automatically redirect data through an alternative route.

This unique project sends an important message to marginal 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.”

At the launch of the e-Village, Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka and Chairman, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission commented that it is the government’s intention to launch similar projects in another 300 villages in remote areas of Sri Lanka.

In a related development on 16 November 2006 when Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse, President of Sri Lanka, delivered the annual budget speech in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, proposed to allocate USD 1 million in the year 2007 for the implementation of e-Villages replicating the Mahawilachchiya project. It is expected that international donors and private sector will make further contributions.

The ICT R&D Grants Programme is directed at encouraging original and innovative information and communications technology (ICT) solutions to development problems. Grants for suitable research and development (R&D) projects are awarded to Asia-Pacific-based organizations on a competitive basis.

It is a joint initiative of the United Nations Development Programme’s Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), of Canada, and the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC). The Programme is administered by the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) and is overseen by a Committee established by all Programme partners.

Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya
Meshed up village of Mahawilachchiya

news-srilanka-evillage-2

National TV does a documentary on Horizon Lanka

Radhika Nilupulee Rajapaksha

Mr. Saddha Mangala Sooriyabandara of Rupavahini, the National TV of Sri Lanka visited Horizon Lanka about two months ago. He organized a program with the Horizon staff and the senior students. Then Mr. Sooriyabandara visited Horizon with a team to do a documentary on Horizon Lanka Foundation. That was an eight-member team consisting of the Director, Mr. Saddha Mangala Sooriyabandara, Assistant Director Mr. Palitha, cameraman, Mr. Wasantha, lighting technician, Mr. Hemantha, sound technician, Mr. Mohan, the assistants, Mr. Dhanushka, Mr. Roopasiri and their driver.

Producer Sadhdha Mangala Bandara
Producer Sadhdha Mangala Bandara

Filming on the water reservoir bund
Filming on the water reservoir bund

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first day was spent on checking the equipment and other initial preparations. They could do only that because it was evening when they arrived at Horizon Lanka. They organized the second day session with the staff and senior students of Horizon Lanka.

Filming in a ricefield
Filming in a ricefield

Filming in a ricefield
Filming in a ricefield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second day they all came to the Horizon in the morning and their program was to do a videos at Ruvini’s, Iresha’s and mine. So, we all got together and first we decided to go to the rice fields to video how we work in the rice fields. We worked in the rice fields as farmers. Then we came to my place and I explained to them the history of Horizon Lanka, how I work with my laptop, how I design websites and how I manage all these things while studying. Then we went to Iresha’s house and she also talked about what she does with her laptop and how the Horizon helps her. Next, Ruvini also explained how we got our laptops, and what we do with them.

Having lunch at Horizon Lanka
Having lunch at Horizon Lanka

Team relaxing during a break
Team relaxing during a break

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second day was a very enjoyable day because the first scene was videoed at the Mahawilachchiya tank. The scene was about how Horizon students travel by a cart with the brand-new laptops. Then they came to Horizon and the TV team wanted to record how the Horizon’s first batch of students learned English and computer skills. After that they wanted to know how we learn English by watching DVDs with English subtitles, how we do sports also and how we use the gym at Horizon. So, the team videoed these things as well. Second day was gone so nicely and we had then become very comfortable to work with the team.

Filming in the bazaar at Bogas Handiya
Filming in the bazaar at Bogas Handiya

Filming in the bazaar at Bogas Handiya
Filming in the bazaar at Bogas Handiya

Inside the computer lab
Inside the computer lab

Third day was the last day. Mr. Sooriyabandara and the team came to Horizon and they videoed the pre-school and how the lessons at Horizon Lanka Academy were conducted. In the evening the parents got together and it was a useful occasion for Mr. Saddha to video the parents’ comments. And then they wanted to have details about how Horizon students come to Horizon. Finally, they videoed how the computer lessons were conducted and how senior students helped these lessons. Mr. Wanninayaka, the Founder of the Horizon, too, did voice recording with them.

Finally, the National TV team said goodbye to us in the evening.

We would like to thank to Mr. Saddha Mangala Sooriyabandara and the team for doing a documentary about us. It will give a big publicity and I think the team opened us a way to peep into the future with better hopes. The program will be telecast soon and you all can watch what Horizon Lanka actually is.

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga visiting houses and public schools in Mahawilachchiya

Mr Weeratunga in the village
Mr Weeratunga in the village

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga and the other guests who came for the mesh launching also visited few houses and the two public schools which were connected to the Internet. They were very happy to see how the villagers used Internet for day today activities.

WiFi signals are available around all 6 mesh towers
WiFi signals are available around all 6 mesh towers

At Duleeka's dad reading an online newspaper
At Duleeka’s dad reading an online newspaper

At Saliyamala Public School
At Saliyamala Public School

At Thakshila Public School
At Thakshila Public School

The day we ‘meshed up’ Mahawilachchiya

Lalith Weeratunga

Lalith Weeratunga

Mr Wanni welcoming Mr Lalith Weerathunga
Mr Wanni welcoming Mr Lalith Weeratunga

Mr Weerathunga being welcomed by ETPL team
Mr Lalith Weeratunga being welcomed by ETPL team

 

 

 

 

 

 

A historical event took place today at Horizon Lanka Foundation at Mahawilachchiya. According to Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka, Horizon Lanka Foundation has been creating history for the past 8 years.

” The first ever mesh network sponsored by the Pan Asia R&D Grants Program through the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, was declared open by Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, the secretary to the President of Sri Lanka and the chairman of the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Regulatory Committee. Many distinguished guests, including Mr. Sunil C. Wijesinghe, Deputy Chairman Bartleet Group, Prianca Perera, a Director at Bartleet Group, Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara, Managing Director of Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd – the company who made this groundbreaking project a success – Mrs. Chitranganie Mubarak, Programme Manager – e-Society Development Initiative of ICTA and Mr. Chanuka Wattegama, a former veteran journalist in the field of ICT, graced the occasion.

Mr Lalith Weerathunga lighting the oil lamp
Mr Lalith Weeratunga lighting the oil lamp

Mr Wanni lighting the oil lamp
Mr Nanda Wanninayaka  lighting the oil lamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

In its press release on mesh inauguration, the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) stated, “The Mahawilachchiya e-Village with its high density of computers is a significant chapter in ICT development in the country. Over 400 rural students receive ICT education and it is the only rural Sri Lankan village with 24 hours internet connectivity. Secondary level students are now commissioned to design websites and are currently earning more than their parents who are mostly farmers. This is symbolic and a message for marginal level communities all over the world.”

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga began his eloquent speech, which mesmerized the audience, quoting from the book ‘Ignited Minds’, written by the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam,

“Dream, dream, dream…
Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action.’’

He was referring to the man who had a dream and who was tenacious and resilient enough not to give up or look back until he made his dreams come true. The man who really transformed his dreams into thoughts, which resulted in action that overwhelmed the whole nation; Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka, popularly known as ‘Wanni’, is the founder of Horizon Lanka Foundation. He is the man, according to Mr. Weeratunga, who ‘inspired the spirit within the children’ of the poor remote village Mahawilachchiya where he was born. He has worked hard for a long time together with the ‘inspired’ children and they have transformed Mahawilachchiya into the first e-village in the country. Mr. Weeratunga promised to do everything possible in his official capacities to help Horizon Lanka and Mahawilachchiya, and other similar projects. He resolutely stated, “Take my word I will certainly go into this thoroughly.”

Mr. Weeratunga, went on to quote again from the preface of this book he said he specially selected for this occasion from ‘the huge collection of books’ he has accumulated over time, “I have written this book as an expression of my faith in the potential of India, and my countrymen.” He called Abdul Kalam ‘a man who loved India’. Then he said, “Let me say this; that we have faith in the potential of Sri Lanka and our countrymen. You (Wanni) have exemplified this.” Aren’t these the words of a man who loves Sri Lanka? His words, “I was offered many times to live abroad, the latest was in 1998 but I never want to leave Sri Lanka. I want to make sure that this is a place that we can be proud of.” tell us how he loves Sri Lanka, the motherland of us all.

He said that he “could have never imagined this kind of thing ever happening in Mahawilachchiya”, which he first visited in 1977. “This is not what I saw at that time 30 years ago, it was quite different and I think now I see a totally different Mahawilachchiya; you (Wanni) have taken it to a realm which I could have never imagined, not even in my wildest dreams that I could have imagined Mahawilachchiya would be like this but you have taken it not through normal routes.”

“The usual development is we build the roads, we build the small irrigation channels, we build the business opportunities of people, we build the school, we build the hospital; that is the normal kind of development that you do. We have done this for the last fifty odd years. But where have we gone? There are places where there is good infrastructure but people have not developed. There are places like Mahawilachchiya where you do not have the infrastructure, but your people are highly developed.”

Mr. Weeratunga had a proposition to make to Wanni and his team, “I think what we see here today is replicable. I want to ask your help in the creation of at least 325 e-villages because we have 325 Divisional Secretaries Divisions in this country. So at least if we can select one village per division, I think Wanni can walk us through because you have gone through the whole mill.”

Mr. Weeratunga further speculated on the issue of creating e-villages, “I invited Wanni to spearhead this whole task. Also, let Horizon Lanka be the training ground for those 325 champions that we are going to find. But you could all be the champions of champions. We have a fantastic programme in Mahinda Chinthana called ‘Gama Neguma’, which is to ensure that the village is developed in the total sense. Had I known, or had Mr. Rajapaksa known about e-village concept we would have definitely put it in ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’, I am sure. Now that you have done it, it doesn’t have to be in that book but we can always copy, we can always work with you. I don’t want to do something different; I want to learn from you. And then do it the way it has come through. This is not top driven, this is bottom driven. That is why it is a success.”

Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara, Managing Director of ETPL, gave a presentation on mesh technology in which he described briefly but very clearly what mesh is, and the immense potential it can bring about in developing the rural life. Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd. is one of the premier Network Systems Integrators in Sri Lanka who provide ICT solutions for major Sri Lankan corporations and institutions. They recently started to focus on low cost networking solutions to rural areas.

ETPL, in a recent press release, called this “a pilot project, a model from which other rural villages can also benefit.” It also says that “the villagers in rural areas will be able to gain information and be knowledgeable to help stimulate economic growth by creating new products, increasing productivity and promoting new commercial and administrative methods. In addition to economic development, this connectivity would foster social development, cohesion and inclusion, through its applications in education, health and increased citizen participation in civil society and government.” (Read the complete press release.)

According to Mrs. Chitranganie Mubarak, Programme Manager – e-Society Development Initiative of ICTA “ICTA is always behind Horizon Lanka.” She also added, “We are very proud and this is a village we sight as a model to everybody else we talk to. We are thankful to Horizon Lanka because they are the ones who opened our eyes to what is possible at village level and we have taken it to other villages.” The ICTA had extended its helping hand to Horizon Lanka on many occasions. They are the ones who gave us the internet connection and Mrs. Mubarak happily announced that they had signed the contract doubling the bandwidth, up to 256 kbps, just the day before. And the Agency was behind us in the advanced training of our senior students.

“Just giving connectivity will not be enough. We know that people need to be helped in their capacities and we have taken Nirosh and Chamila, two people from the Horizon Lanka Academy, to India on a training program. Our vision is also that these villages to take that step to become a BPO business and we funded two of them, Isuru and Nirosh, in training travel to Laos and Delhi. That has again opened up a whole range of opportunities.”

Some students of Horizon Lanka Academy made a couple of presentations using the ICT skills they have acquired at the Academy , speaking in fluent English, which proved that they can compete with students from any big school in Colombo. Mr. Sunil C. Wijesinghe commented that ‘I wouldn’t see that kind of children in Colombo.’

They said in one of their presentations, “We believe that there should be an ICT culture in Mahawilachchiya… However, our knowledge in this area is still limited but we hope to improve it in the future. Horizon Lanka’s founder, Mr. Wanninayaka’s dream is to send one of the Horizon Lanka students to study at MIT in the United States. We also hope to start e-learning if someone can help us. We are helping ICT educational projects in Ampara and Monaragala now.”

They further added, “We don’t have a single mobile phone company covering Mahawilachchiya. Having listened to our request, Dialog Telekom provided mobile coverage within 50-meter radius around Horizon Lanka last year. They are going to cover the whole village soon…”

Wanni started his short but forceful speech by reminiscing how it all began, “At an e-Society exhibition held in Colombo in 2004, Mr. Chanuka Wattegama and Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara sparked the first flame for mesh. Having heard that Mahawilachchiya is the village with the highest computer density, they suggested that mesh technology could be easily implemented in Mahawilachchiya.”

Wanni said that the biggest hurdle they faced in the implementation of the Mesh was “The problem of getting permission for the frequency. Licensing cost us a huge amount of money. We expect that the TRC would take actions to free this frequency enabling us to replicate mesh in other parts of Sri Lanka as well. I have learnt that this particular frequency is free in other countries.”

He requested the ICTA to increase the bandwidth – as they have always done in the past in responding to the growing demand- at least up to 1Mb, to accommodate the expansion of the Mesh that will take place in immediate future, with the proposed addition of new computers to the 2 schools and the small home networks that students are building in their houses, which will result in a network of more than 100 computers.

Drawing the attention to the barriers Horizon Lanka still has to overcome in launching the BPO Project Wanni said, “Our to-be-investors’ main worry was the road conditions here. We get visitors every week and they find it difficult to travel due to bad road conditions. Then he expressed his hope that, “His Excellency the President will help the village by repairing the road to Mahawilachchiya via Anuradhapura and Nochchiyagama; not to mention the roads inside the village too.”

Speaking further about the problems Horizon Lanka has to face he said that we need government intervention about the frequently fluctuating electricity in the village too.

In conclusion Wanni, with the look of the same undefeated determination one can always see on his face, assured the audience that, “If the government, and also the private sector, help us we can make Mahawilachchiya another Andra Pradesh or Bangalore using ICT.”

Hansi Sumedha, a grade 10 student of Horizon Lanka Academy called the implementing a mesh network in Mahawilachchiya ‘our mammoth achievement’ in her vote of thanks.

The sponsors for the project are,

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP)
Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMICC)
International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC)
Internet Society,
Pan Asia Networking
Microsoft.

Partners who worked with Horizon Lanka to make this venture are the Telecom Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, the Information and Communication Technology Agency, the Asia Media Information Centre, and Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Limited.

Ranjith Gunarathne

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga speaking at the mesh Wi-Fi network launnch
Mr. Lalith Weeratunga speaking at the mesh Wi-Fi network launnch

Ms. Chiranganie Mubarak from the ICTA addressing the gathering.
Ms. Chiranganie Mubarak from the ICTA addressing the gathering.

Krishanthi Priyadarshani and Dinesh Pradeep doing a presentation at the event.
Krishanthi Priyadarshani and Dinesh Pradeep doing a presentation at the event.

Chanuka Wattegama, Nanda Wanninayaka and Mr. Lalith Weeratunga
Chanuka Wattegama, Nanda Wanninayaka and Mr. Lalith Weeratunga

Mr. Weeratunga at Saliymala School, Mahawilachchiya
Mr. Weeratunga at Saliymala School, Mahawilachchiya

A mesh internet tower in the village
A mesh internet tower in the village

Mr. Weeratung at Duleeka's house which was connected to mesh network
Mr. Weeratung at Duleeka’s house which was connected to mesh network

A house connected with mesh network
A house connected with mesh network