Miss Rachelle Koets from The Netherlands volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation during December, 2017 and January, 2018.
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
Horizon Lanka Foundation started its fifth Horizon Academy branch, this time in Ralapanawa, Nochchiyagama on December 01, 2017. At Horizon Academy we teach 5 languages, i.e., English, Spanish, German, French and Japanese depending on the availability of foreign volunteers who speak those languages. We also teach ICT, IoT and Robotics as our main subjects. In addition to these subjects, we also teach Fine Arts and Sports to break the monotony of the students. We also pay our attention to personal development also.
Those who wish to join please call Ms. Nadeeka Kumarasingha (an intern) at email@example.com or on 071-8705428 or Mr. Rohana Kumarasingha (Manager) at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0713902542. The Address is Horizon Academy, Farm Junction, Ralapanawa, Nochchiyagama, Sri Lanka.
We charge only 500 LKR (3.25 USD) per month for all these subjects. We have both local and foreign teachers to teach these subjects at the Academy. Students will be rewarded with stationary, school supplies, computer related equipment, etc. after evaluating their performances.
The parents of the students will be given free English and ICT training on Sundays from 8.00 am to 12.00 noon.
So, please help us. You can either contact me through mobile phone on 0094 7777 02678 or 0094 7185 08537 or at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you need our bank details. Or you can simply donate with your credit card through our crowdfunding campaign at https://www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/empowering-children-in-rural-sri-lanka.
We have two brand new laptop computers donated by Mr. Vidhura Ralapanawa of MAS Group, Sri Lanka. These are the only computer equipment we have. We need more equipment and services.
Nanda Wanninayaka, Founder, Horizon Lanka Foundation
Sarah Campbell from the United Kingdom volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in July, August 2017. See her tour report below..
My husband, Joe Campbell and I were travelling around Asia when we decided we wanted to volunteer at Horizon Lanka Foundation, we were slightly nervous having not done any teaching in the past, however it turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made!
On our first day we were welcomed by Nanda and Sunanda (who runs the Horizon Academy – Tantirimale) and they took us on the back of their motorbikes to our Sri Lankan family who would be hosting us for the month. They were so welcoming and made us feel part of the family from the very first day. We had a small room that was slightly separate from the rest of the house (with a fan and a mosquito net, although luckily during July there didn’t seem to be too many mosquitoes!) We spent a lot of time with our host family when we weren’t teaching, one of our favourite evening activities was a card game called Uno (which often resulted in big competitive family games in the evenings including all the cousins, aunts and uncles as well!) There was such a lovely community feel in the village, with friends and family popping in all the time to either play cricket, a game of carrom (a really fun Sri Lankan disc flicking game!) or just to drink tea, chat and play with Lassy (their adorable 2 month old puppy!)
For our meals, we generally had biscuits and a cup of tea for breakfast and delicious rice and curry for lunch and dinner (these ranged from pumpkin curry to iguana lizard curry which was hunted by the 18-year-old boy in the family!) We were always given new food to try, such as berries, corn (a delicious fruit that the children would get from the trees most days and give to you) and tamarind (another delicious fruit that you suck on)!
Now to the teaching… teaching the children in Tantirimale was one of the most exciting, challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. My husband and I had never taught before and so were slightly terrified before we turned up. On our first day we were faced with a room of 15/20 students and although we didn’t really know where to start we slowly got into it. Their English was relatively limited so we started with basic vocabulary such as colours, animals, clothing etc. and built up to adjectives and basic sentences towards the end of the month. The children were very patient with us (especially at the beginning when we were still working out what to do!) They were such kind, caring, fun, smiley children who listened intently to every word we said and wanted to learn as much as they could. We couldn’t have asked for better students!
For the first couple of weeks we taught in the public school in the mornings and then at Horizon Lanka in the afternoons (however because they were in the exam period it meant we didn’t necessarily know what times we’d be teaching until the day before/ on the day, but that was fine we just got used to being flexible!) After two weeks, the school broke up for summer holidays and we were only teaching at Horizon Academy – Tantirimale. Some days we would teach all day at Horizon Academy, but often we would do 9.00 am-2.00 pm because it was due to rain in the afternoon (and they didn’t want the children to have to walk long journeys back to their houses in the rain.)
Teaching in the public school was an amazing experience; we played lots of games and got them to draw and label scenarios, as well as doing a lot of call and repeat. It was also handy that they had desks so we would occasionally write out a worksheet and photocopy them at Horizon Academy and get them to fill them in during the lessons (there was a printer at the academy so this method seemed to work for us and it mixed up the lessons a bit!) After school we would then teach at Horizon Academy which has an outdoors area so you can do more creative things (such as sports, teaching them to dance, playing guitar, keyboard etc.) Teaching the children to swing dance was a particular highlight for me – especially when the boys were paired up and did some amazing twists and turns!
On our days off we did some really fun activities including a safari (where we saw a leopard resting 5m from the jeep), canoeing, staying in a local farmer’s tree house, wild elephant spotting (we saw 20 wild elephants one afternoon!) and taking the family tractor to a local river to swim.
Overall it was such a great experience that I would recommend to everyone if you have the chance to do it. When I first arrived, I was completely out of my comfort zone (not knowing how to teach, living in a completely different culture and environment to the UK, even things like wearing a cheeththa when showering outside took a bit of getting used to) but because it was so different it meant I learnt so much both about myself and about the community we were living in, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. We have gained another family in Sri Lanka and I am so grateful to them and the wonderful children at Horizon Academy – Tantirimale for making it honestly one of the best experiences of my life!
Alex Gray from Australia taught English, ICT and sports at Horizon Lanka Foundation as a volunteer in May, 2017.
I had a great experience volunteering with the Horizon Lanka Foundation. Unfortunately it was not as long as I had hoped as I had a leg injury I had to go back to Colombo for. But I still took a lot away from it. I met Nanda as I hopped off the bus and he showed me around and explained everything to me. I stayed the night and then the next day we got on his bike and drove to the next town over. He was starting up a new program in a new village called Tantirimale.
The students were a bit shy at first but once we got into it they were happy to get involved with games and we had some fun. Their level of English was very basic so had to start very slow but the kids were very eager to learn and we learnt about body parts, the students started taking down notes without even being told to. I was very impressed. All these kids need is an opportunity so this program is so important for them.
After class I was taken to my host family, who didn’t speak to much English but were some of the nicest and most welcoming people I have ever met. I was given my own room and every day breakfast lunch and dinner was made for me. I had a lot of fun with these guys even though we couldn’t really speak much to each other. I taught them some new English words and they taught me some new Sri Lankan words.
A very rewarding experience thank you Nanda.
Alex Gray – Australia