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

Sihini Brings New Dreams to Gamini Public School, Mahawilachchiya, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Sihini Atalugama


Sihini Atalugama

Miss Sihini Atalugama is a Sri Lankan American teenage girl living in Tampa, Florida, the United States of America. Her parents, Lalani and Asela Atalugama had been helping Horizon Lanka since 2002 by providing scholarships to the students of Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya.

Last June, Sihini visited Mahawilachchiya with her younger brother Thehan Atalugama and her parents on a week-long volunteering assignment. Since Horizon Academy in Mahawilachchiya was grooming Gamini Public School as a “sister school” by providing foreign volunteers, IT related equipment, musical instrument, etc. to this school, the Horizon Lanka Foundation directed Sihini to volunteer at this school which brought immense benefits to the school.

Sihini and her brother taught English to the students here. Sihini also initiated a program to provide financial scholarships to the students of this school by launching Bright Light Foundation on her own initiative with little guidance from her parents. Visit www.brightlightconnect.org and assist her in this boundless initiative. She hopes to raise funds for the scholarships program through her website and direct the funding to brighten the lives of the students in this small school in which around 200 students’ study.

On top of all these Sihini’s parents donated money to the school to buy a few dictionaries, sports jerseys and shorts for the school volleyball team and also some school supplies and USB pen drives to the school. They also brought reading glasses from the USA and distributed them among the villagers in Dunumandalawa, Mahawilachchiya.

Sihini also hopes to raise funds to provide an air conditioner to Gamini School’s computer lab in the future. There are a few other projects lined up for the school if the school authorities show that the funds are managed transparently and utilized effectively for the benefit of the students and the school.

Pramodhya Gunarathna pramodhya.umayangani.gunarathna@horizonacademy.lk – Grade 10 – Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya

Sihini Atalugama with the students of Gamini Public School, Mahawilachchiya
Sihini Atalugama with the students of Gamini Public School, Mahawilachchiya
Sihini Atalugama in the USA
Sihini Atalugama in the USA
Distribution of reading glasses to the villagers in Duunumandalawa, Mahawilachchiya
Distribution of reading glasses to the villagers in Duunumandalawa, Mahawilachchiya

130. Manon Charlotte Zabot – France

Manon Charlotte Zabot

Manon Charlotte Zabot

Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot from France volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in March, 2018.

 

Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot teaching the students at Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya
Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot teaching the students at Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya

Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot teaching the students at Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya
Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot teaching the students at Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya

Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot teaching the students at Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya
Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot teaching the students at Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya

Manon Charlotte Zabot and other volunteers at Tantirimale Rock Temple
Manon Charlotte Zabot and other volunteers at Tantirimale Rock Temple

 

Mini Concert to Say Goodbye to Foreign Volunteers Diana, Eagle, Sona and Monika – July 13, 2017

Mini Concert to Say Goodbye to Foreign Volunteers Diana, Eagle, Sona and Monika – July 13, 2017

Horizon Lanka VolunteersThe students of Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka held a Mini Concert, the first of its kind for 2017, on July 13, 2017 at the Academy to say goodbye to four of our foreign volunteers, namely, Diana Wong Yuen Sam and Eagle Man Ho Tin from Hong Kong and Sona Forstlova and Monika Salfická from the Czech Republic. They volunteered in July, 2017 and did a lot to educate the students both at Horizon Academy and Gamini Public School in Mahawilachchiya.

All the volunteers also took part in the concert by performing along with the students of Horizon Academy and Gamini Public School in Mahawilachchiya.

See the pictures and videos of the concert items below.

Primary students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya
Primary students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya

Senior students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya dancing with volunteers
Senior students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya dancing with volunteers

Senior students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya dancing
Senior students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya dancing

Man Ho Tin Eagle at the Concert
Man Ho Tin Eagle at the Concert

Horizon Lanka Volunteers after the concert
Horizon Lanka Volunteers after the concert

Diana Wong Yuen Sam with the kids after the concert
Diana Wong Yuen Sam with the kids after the concert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot, an Angel from France to Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya

Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot, an Angel from France to Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya

Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot with senior students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot, a young volunteer from France arrived in Mahawilachchiya last week. She will be here for two months to teach the students. I wish she extends her stay though. She is a smart woman who loves teaching and has a born talent for it. In her own words, she describes her passion for teaching thus. “Teaching has always been a goal for me, especially to children and women (for women empowerment).” I am glad that we have her at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya at the right time. I have not been in Mahawilachchiya regularly and the students’ education was disrupted as a result. This affected the number of regular students too. But now, I am relieved a lot because Miss Zabot has already been able to attract the students who left the institution and some new students too. She is very kind towards the kids (but not so towards me ? because I haven’t been able to do things on time due to the bike accident I met with last September. It kept my movements restricted as I was not able to repair it as yet. But now that this young teacher is at Horizon Academy, I can entrust her my role and I am sure she is confident in doing it a lot better than I did.

Miss Zabot has already decided to make the classroom better by painting the walls and letting the students to write, draw things related to her lessons. She has already prepared a list of things to buy from the city and she appreciates if you could send Horizon Academy some English books for the students to read. She is so caring towards the students, especially the primary students. She lives at our teenage student Prabodha Kalotuwawa’s house. Prabodha has been hosting quite a number of volunteers and her English too is improving as a result.

Apart from volunteering at Horizon Academy, Miss Zabot also teaches free of charge at the Seevali Primary School, a public school in the village. She enjoys it very much and dedicates more hours than we expected her to do. It is not an easy task to work extra hours due to the hot temperature in Anuradhapura district during these days.

I am sure all our other volunteers are also doing the same in other Horizon Academies but I just did not have the time to be with them during lessons to see their good work. I have planned to repair my bike this weekend and travel to all five Horizon Academies at least once a week and oversee the affairs. It is so heartening to see how our volunteers dedicate their time and knowledge towards the students in these rural villages despite the lack of facilities and harsh weather conditions these days. Horizon Lanka survived its bad times due to our brave volunteers. Right now, we have 9 volunteers from different European countries.

Nanda Wanninayaka, the Founder and the Chairman of Horizon Lanka Foundation

Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot with primary students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya
Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot with primary students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya

Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot with senior students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya
Miss Manon Charlotte Zabot with senior students at Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya

 

107. Benny Corpuz – The Netherlands

Benny Corpuz – The Netherlands

Benny Corpuz – The NetherlandsMr. Benny Corpuz from the Netherlands volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in December 2017, January, 2018.

Benny Corpuz with the other volunteers at Horizon Lanka in Mahawilachchiya
Benny Corpuz with the other volunteers at Horizon Lanka in Mahawilachchiya

Benny Corpuz playing cricket in Mahawilachchiya
Benny Corpuz playing cricket in Mahawilachchiya

98. Paula Pazos Dopazo – Spain

Paula Pazos Dopazo from Spain

Paula Pazos Dopazo from SpainMiss Paula Pazos Dopazo from Spain volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in November, 2017.

Paula Pazos Dopazo from Spain with the students of Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya
Paula Pazos Dopazo from Spain with the students of Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya

Miss Paula Pazos Dopazo at Mahawilachchiya Reservoir, Mahawilachchiya.
Miss Paula Pazos Dopazo at Mahawilachchiya Reservoir, Mahawilachchiya.

Miss Paula Pazos Dopazo teaching the students of Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya
Miss Paula Pazos Dopazo teaching the students of Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya

A smiling Paula Pazos Dopazo at Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya
A smiling Paula Pazos Dopazo at Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya

Miss Paula Pazos Dopazo at the first host family
Miss Paula Pazos Dopazo at the first host family

Sanduni's parents' farm in Mahawilachchiya
Sanduni’s parents’ farm in Mahawilachchiya

Paula Pazos Dopazo with the students of Paniyankadawala Public School
Paula Pazos Dopazo with the students of Paniyankadawala Public School

 

Paula Pazos Dopazo with the students of Paniyankadawala Public School
Paula Pazos Dopazo with the students of Paniyankadawala Public School

Paula Pazos Dopazo with the students of Paniyankadawala Public School
Paula Pazos Dopazo with the students of Paniyankadawala Public School

Paula Pazos Dopazo with the students of Paniyankadawala Public School
Paula Pazos Dopazo with the students of Paniyankadawala Public School

 

 

 

 

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