THE CHILDREN OF THE JUNGLE REACH THE INTERNET
Original Sinhala version by Pushpakumara Jayarathna August 18, 2002
Translated by Ranjith Pushpakumara
In a world where money hunters every nook and corner, the ideal teacher figures of yester years are hardly found. But for everybody’s surprise, a man of a similar caliber was reported not from an urban area where the means are great but from a rural village called Mahawilachchiya, where only the needs are great for everyone. This ideal teacher emerged not from the city which is full of private tuition masters but from an unprivileged village boarded by the sprawling Wilpaththu Game Sanctuary.
We met this ideal teacher at Mahawilachchiya, a rural village.
On one hand, you will hardly believe this story. Have you ever heard of a set of students who have been fortunate enough to enter the Internet via a website, especially in a country where only the urban population have made the computer a heritage of their own even if it is hardly known in this country, the village of Mahawilachchiya? But it’s true.
And the Horizon computer school hidden in the wilderness in this country is known to the left and right across the Horizon through the website, www.horizonlanka.org.
The creator of this is a teacher known as Nandasiri Wanninayaka, who, as a matter of fact, can be called an ideal teacher. Mahawilachchiya is about 40 kilometres away from Anuradhapura; Mannar is another 25 kilometres away from it. The LTTE cadres have launched several attacks on this village up to now, hence the security of the area is ensured by the army. But today Home Guards carrying T56 automatic rifles have replaced the army.
Some years ago the children of the village were more in jungles than in their own homes for fear of LTTE attacks, most often at the expense of their education too.
Despite all these natural and man made disasters, this daring teacher, who not only revolutionized the prevailing set of serving where the means are great but turned upside down to a set up of serving where the needs are great, has been quite successful in not only bridging the existed gap between the urban and rural students, but also enabling his set of rural students to surpass the those in urban areas, in the arena of Internet exploration.
All this is not a miracle but an achievement of Wanni’s sweat. He who started the primary education at his own village school, Thakshila Maha Vidyalaya, Mahawilachchiya, continued his secondary education at the Central College, Anuradhapura. Later having been enrolled in as a teacher of English, for his service, he took to his own village school itself challenging the dogma “ruined are you if you select your village school for your teaching.” These children had not even seen an English teacher for years until Wanni came there with the idea of helping these innocent children out of darkness. He started imparting his knowledge, rather ability, and the students were picking it up gleefully and effectively. Wanni went in to the extent of conducting classes after school and even on holidays having understood the true capabilities of his students. He took the initiative of publishing a handwritten magazine which was termed “Horizon.” It was never thought that this was the stepping stone to the Horizon Computer School, the first ever of such in the jungle. It was perhaps with another hope that Wanni sent a copy of the maiden volume of this magazine to the American Embassy in Sri Lanka. Fortune favors the brave, the Embassy having been impressed by the endeavor, donated a computer to this village school of Mahawilachchiya, the first ever computer the area.
Though the students were feeling it out of joy there was nobody who could operate it. Wanni too had no idea what so ever. He had a fairly good knowledge of English using the “Help Menu” started manipulating it and mastered the art. He then wanted to teach students what he had learnt. He succeeded in publishing the second volume of his magazine computer printed. By this venture he taught his students what determination and diligence could do.
But at the same time the same fate that befalls any honest working teacher who does not hang on the band wagon befell Wanni too. He had to sacrifice his job for his good motive. His honest motive was, as usual in Sri Lanka, seen by the teachers who treat their job as a penalty imposed by nature upon them, as a threat to their own existence. The school authorities were so ungrateful as to lock the computer in a school room.
Having resigned from his job – one way we can lose good teachers in Sri Lanka – he started the Horizon Computer School amidst the blessings of the villagers who had already been impressed by the attempt he was taking for the betterment of their children. Amidst all these humanly manipulated barriers, he succeeded in publishing the third volume of the “Horizon” but this time hand written. With the magazine he just stepped in to the “Lankadeepa” newspaper office and was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Gamini Akmeemana who works on the “Daily Mirror.” Meeting Mr. Akmeemana enabled him to create yet another new era of Wanni’s endeavor.
Having listened to this pathetic story of the Horizon computer school at Mahawilachchiya what Mr. Gamini Akmeemana did was to visit the place and reveal this story to the whole world over the Internet.
It was about this time that Mr. Donald Gaminitilake, who was working as an Image Technologist in Japan, arrived in Sri Lanka for a holiday with his wife Mrs. Bhadra Gaminitilake got this news and revealed it to a batch of his friends. As a result of this, the first computer was donated with the joint courtesy of Mr. Sanjeewa Wickramanayaka, the Managing Director of the East West Company and Mr. Mahen Kariyawasam, the Managing Director of the Andrews Travels.
Thereafter Mr.Gaminithilake visited several times on his arrival to the Horizon Computer School even in terms of sharing his vast knowledge in the field. He was an expert in website designing not only taught Wanni the skills necessary but also designed the Horizon website himself, displaying the scenic beauty of the so called village of Mahawilachchiya. Having seen this web site, Sri Lankan expatriates got marvelled by the hidden beauty of the village, volunteered to help the Horizon School.
Similarly, the Managing Director of the well-known Slimline Apparels in Pannala Mr. Dian Gomes too not only donated some of his used computers to the Horizon School but also enrolled Wanni as a Human resource Executive, having seen his true capabilities. Though employed in his staff Mr. Dian Gomes had given Wanni the freedom of time to attend to the affairs of the Horizon at his will.
Thereafter as a result of the donations from the Sri Lankan expatriates the foundation stone was laid for the horizon computer school building. But till then trees sheltered Wanni and his students in their lessons.
All the articles in this website are designed by the students themselves. It is no wonder that these articles carry a rare authenticity and maturity of their own. For want of a permanent place to shelter the computers still sharing students’ homes. The students get together to these places in the afternoons for their studies. Another noteworthy feature of the Horizon Computer School is that the advanced students are acting as facilitators for the amateurs “Even if I had to withdraw from this, the school has itself produced heads to look after it,” comments Wanni.
The Horizon School nurtures both the computer and English literacy of its students.
“What I want is to convince my students is that nothing in this world is magic, but can be achieved with determination and diligence. Developing the personality of the students and teaching how to break barriers to surpass the urban population is our motto. I am going to resign from my current job to sacrifice whole my time for the sake of my school. We have already achieved what are actually dreams for others. That is because we have a goal in what ever we do here. What I really want now is to educate these children further, so that they will be able to look after themselves before any further challenge” commented Wanni, with a firm determination.
He believes that he will be able to house his children in the new building in the near future. It will definitely go down in the history of humane and the honest people of Mahawilachchiya as a golden fruit bred and born with the sweat of one called “Wanni from the Wanni”, which, according to Robert Knox, once knew little of Englishmen.