“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.
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.
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.”
Students in rural Sri Lanka are at a competitive disadvantage in today’s economy for two reasons: They lack the training and English skills typically provided by urban schools, and the low levels of infrastructure throughout rural areas discourage business investment. Recognizing that the educational system in Sri Lanka is failing to keep pace with the requirements of the job market, Nanda has created a parallel system through the Horizon Lanka Foundation www.horizonlanka.org he founded in his own village in rural Sri Lanka, Mahawilachchiya 20 years ago. Through the Foundation he tries to better prepare rural children and youth to face the competitive world in terms equipping the children, teenagers and the youth of rural Sri Lanka with English and other main world languages, technology, fine arts, and sporting talents. His model relies on innovative teaching methods that combine English with computer-skills training, and the simultaneous development of community-wide Internet connectivity. Extensively deploying local and foreign volunteers’ contribution is the key to the success of his low-cost educational model that could be replicated anywhere in Sri Lanka, even under a tree, exactly like how the Horizon Lanka was born in 1998.
English skills serve little purpose if jobs remain
unavailable. Nanda thus supplements his teaching efforts with the development
of a technological infrastructure designed to attract communication, training,
and employment opportunities that would otherwise exist only in cities. He turned
to his village into an “e-village,” equipping it with household computers and free,
unlimited Internet access even as early as 2004. Using a combination of soft
loans, subsidies, and gifts, he has provided over 400 computers and 100 tabs,
laptops, etc. over the last 20 years to families and public schools in the
area. Of these, these were connected to the Internet via an affordable “mesh” Wi-Fi
internet network technology in 2006, 10 years before the government provided
limited free Wi-Fi to urban hotspots in Sri Lanka.
Thanks to these efforts, Nanda helped start a leading blue-chip
company to start a Business Process Operation (BPO) in the village and now the
successful model is being replicated in other villages too. Nanda is creating a
powerful model that is attracting the attention of local communities, the
national government, the national and international business community, and
By now the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out to 5
rural villages in 3 districts in 3 provinces in Sri Lanka by launching 5
Horizon Academies to Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities without any of
those communities being discriminated on their ethnic background. Nanda has
introduced a franchise system for any Sri Lankan individual, community,
government, non-governmental or commercial entity to purchase Horizon Academy
franchises and run them with the same quality standards of the initial 7
Horizon Academies that are already running by creating an opportunity to
sustain the existing academies with the royalty fee coming from the new
Nanda’s way of teaching is edutainment and the tagline of the
Horizon Academy is – “The Edutainment Academy of Sri Lanka.” All disciplines
are imparted to the students using a lot of entertainment without the students
being felt bored during mostly outdoor classroom activities.
Nanda believes, through these academies, more than academic,
vocational and professional achievements, the children, teenagers and the youth
will have a better understanding and interaction with all ethnic, religious and
cultural backgrounds of Sri Lanka without the overused and abused word
“reconciliation” being even mentioned.
Nanda believes aesthetic, sporting and technology can create
an unending link between Sri Lanka and their ancestors in Kalinga in a
long-term plan. He hopes to initiate a Horizon India Foundation with Mr.
Prakash Chandra Nayak, a friend he never met in person as yet but has been
helping Horizon Lanka Foundation in many great ways during the last decade.
Through the planned Horizon India Foundation, Nanda hopes to start a chain of low-cost
academies throughout Kalinga with Prakash to provide English, ICT, aesthetic
and sporting education free of charge to the students and the youth in Kalinga
with the experience Nanda has for the last 20 years. He hopes to find the
running costs of these academies by starting rural village level Business
Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies just like he did 10 years ago and also by
expanding his proposed Horizon Yatra, an alternative tourism company which he
is going to launch next January to promote responsible tourism in the region. So,
this tour of him with the two teenage girls Prabodha and Pramodhya to take part
in Kalinga Mystic Music Festival would be a mutually benefiting visit to both
Kalinga and Sri Lanka.
Horizon Lanka Foundation started its second Horizon Academy in Ralapanawa, Nochchiyagama, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka in December, 2017. Mr. Rohana Kumarasingha and Ms. Nadeeka Kumarasingha from Ralapanawa are running this academy. Nadeeka was an alumnus of Horizon Academy, Mahawilachchiya. She is a dynamic young lady who does a lot for the students and the community at large in the village through her hard work.
The running cost of the Horizon Academy here per month is around 25,000 LKR | 156.68 USD | 133.90 EUR. This cannot be recovered from the students as their parents get a very low income or in some cases, no income at all. Hence the three-year-long drought disturbed the villagers’ main income, farming, they undergo a lot of hardships. So, we have decided to charge only a 100 LKR | 0.63 USD | 0.54 EUR fee per month from a student here. If we get 100 students per month, we would be able to get 10,000 LKR | 62.67 USD | 53.56 USD. This will cover part of the monthly expenses from of the academy.
Since we cannot afford to pay the teachers, we depend on local and foreign volunteers to teach English and ICT here. So far, 19 foreign volunteers have taught the children in this Academy. We expect more local and foreign volunteers to join us soon.
The foreign volunteers teach English free of charge in the public schools in the mornings and this is totally free of charge for all the students in those schools. The students come to Horizon Academy in the evenings. Foreign volunteers teach during the week days and local volunteers can help teach these students English, ICT, science, mathematics, fine arts and sports during weekends. For the local volunteers, the villagers will provide food and accommodation free of charge. (Foreign volunteers pay the host families for their food and accommodation.)
The students have to pay the above fee for attending Horizon Academy as there are some costs involved in the Academy such as electricity, internet, telephone, stationary, transport, entertaining guests, etc. So, if any of you could help us with these expenses, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. (All contributions and expenses will be recorded, audited and shared with the donors and other stakeholders.)
Nanda Wanninayaka, The Founder and the Chairman of the Horizon Lanka Foundation
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
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.
Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka, the Founder of Horizon Lanka Foundation has been using his personal Dialog mobile phone for all Horizon Lanka related communication since 2001. This becomes a big problem as he has to answer the phone even for the least important matters. So, it would be great if we can install a Dialog CDMA land phone for the common official usage. It would ease newly recruited young girl Anupama Sandamali’s job as the administrator/ICT teacher of Horizon Lanka and it would enable her and other students to learn telephone etiquette as well.
A Dialog CDMA land phone is ideal for this requirement. We prefer to use a Dialog land phone because they have the best coverage and the cheapest prices. Besides they have helped us several times by,
Installing an antenna on the roof of Horizon Lanka to provide mobile access to 50-meter radius around Horizon Lanka computer lab in 2001 at a time even bigger towns had not got the Dialog mobile access.
Providing 2G mobile access to Right Bank of Mahawilachchiya through LankaBell tower in Pemaduwa Mahawilachchiya on Mr. Wanninayaka’s request since the night of December 18, 2006.
Expanding 2G coverage by installing equipment in the Dialog high-tension tower in Kiralpetiyawa, Mahawilachchiya enabling Left Bank of the village with 2G access for even in chena (slash and burn cultivation) farms in the jungles in 2008.
Upgrading the coverage to 3G on Mr. Wanninayaka’s request from the LankaBell tower in Pemaduwa Mahawilachchiya.
Expanding the coverage to 3G on Mr. Wanninayaka’s request from the Dialog high-tension tower in Kiralpetiyawa, Mahawilachchiya in 2009.
Planning to provide 4G Home Broadband facility to Mahawilachchiya at a concessionary price.
So, we are comfortable with Dialog Axiata as our communication service provider. We also hope to get Dialog satellite TV facilities in the near future.
To buy a Dialog CDMA land phone we need 2900 LKR (13.69 USD.) This is a post paid per minute package. And the prices are cheaper.
Monthly Rental 300.00 LKR (2.05 USD)
To Dialog Fixed Line 1.50 LKR (0.010 USD)
Any Other Local Network 2.00 LKR (0.013 USD)
Free to Any Network per month 250.00 LKR (1.71USD)
Package available for 2,990.00 LKR (inclusive with Tax)