Julie Desperiez from France volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in January and February, 2018.
Tali Motzkin from Israel volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in January, 2018.
“My Volunteering at Horizon Academy – Anuradhapura
I would like to tell you about my volunteering experience. I arrived at the Horizon Academy at Thursday evening, straight to Ramanee and Udaya’s school, close to the Anuradhapura city. When I was at the bus station I called Ramanee and she sent her husband, Udaya to pick me with a tuk-tuk driver so I didn’t have any problems to find the place. At this day the students had a goodbye party for the formal volunteer (Susannah Horowitz) so it was very nice to see how they danced, laughed and shared respect for her and also for welcoming me. They prepared us a “queens feast” with a lot of fresh fruits and showed us a dance concert. Then, after this great welcome, my host family came to take me. There, I met my new sister: Hashini, her brother: Gihan, and my new parents: Anura and Kumari. At first it was so strange to walk into other people’s house but they made me feel like I am at my own house. They cook amazing food for me every day and treat me so nicely. During my stay, every day I have learned something new about them and about their traditions, they also took me to some really cool places like the washing reservoir, temple and the local market. Now, after one week with them I really feel like home and they are my new family.
In the matter of the Horizon Academy, I didn’t have much time with them because I arrived to the weekend and only for a one week, but with the time I had it was nice to see how Ramanee and Udaya teach the students with a lot of passion in all kinds of ways like through books, notebooks, movies, games, dance, etc. I was joining to Ramanee’s teaching class. At the class I was talking with the students, check their homework, teach them computer work and at breaks, I was playing and teaching them field games. At the beginning it was hard for me to let them know what I mean in my explanation (I don’t speak Sinhala), but then I found some ways to explain like with signs and drawings. Also, it takes time to get to know the students and how to approach them, but when I did and felt like I did teach them something new, it was a really good feeling. I also translated Horizon Lanka website into Hebrew as requested by Nanda, but I wished to contribute more with the kids like maybe teach them new dance moves and art, things which require a longer stay. Therefore, I think if someone want to volunteer here and really make some difference, at least stay one week and even more here as it is necessary for getting know the program, students and family.
For conclusion, I had a great time (my best Sri Lankan experience so far!!) and I want to thank to all people who welcomed me, I hope I will see you again soon.
Tali Motzkin, Israel”
Mr. Qurro Lopez from Spain volunteered at Horizon Lanka in October, 2017. He taught Spanish language to the students and the students were very fast in learning this totally new language. In addition to teaching, he brought a lot of gifts to the students at Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya. Tharushika Rathnayaka and Pramodhya Gunarathna received one tab each and the junior students got toys from him. Before he left Sri Lanka, he donated 90,000 LKR (500 EUR) raised by EK ONG KAR MALOGA Yoga School in Spain to be distributed among the students. This donation covers the academic and healthcare expenses of the students for the year 2017. (2017 was a bad year for the whole village as their parents’ farms did not yield any crops due to the drought. So, this financial assistance means a lot to them. It is the same for this year also since the village did not get sufficient rains for the third consecutive year.)
When asked to whom the credit should go for this generous donation, a delighted Mr. Lopez said, “Consider it came from God.”
The students, the parents and the Horizon Lanka Foundation appreciate Mr. Lopez and EK ONG KAR MALOGA Yoga School in Spain for assisting the students in a big way. Thank You.
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
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
After having been on the road for more than a month and after many amazing and annoying experiences, I was looking for a place to stay for a few weeks. A place where I don’t have to pack my backpack every 3 days and a place where no Sri Lankan guys will annoy me 😉 But most of all a place to get involved in Sri Lankan rural life and gain new experience while working with the people. I finally felt ready to start my first Sri Lankan Workaway.
After my weekend trip in Sigriya with Sri Lankan friends, I took the bus to Anuradhapura to spend a night there before heading to Mahawilachchiya to start my next adventure. On Monday morning I entered the bus (as always with the help of some really nice Sri Lankan people) to Wilachchiya, not knowing what will wait me there. I was told to get off at a junction which was close to Horizon Lanka. It turned out that it wasn’t close at all.
So there I was, with a 15kg backpack in the middle of a Sri Lankan rural village, no idea where I was supposed to go. I have to mention that I love being lost so I enjoyed the moment. Secondly I love how the Sri Lankan people always help the “sudu kella,” I don’t even need to ask. This concretely means that a very kind woman called her brother who had a car to give me a short ride to Horizon Lanka. I wish this would ever happen back home.
Volunteering in Mahawilachchiya has been such an amazing experience! Since my early childhood there was a photo in our house which has inspired me for many travels so far. The photo shows my parents in India (they were travelling around the world by bicycle), two white faces surrounded by around 50 Indian people. I always wanted to have a picture like this. After only three days I had around 500 selfies from the school and the kids had just been super cute with me all the time. “Teacher.. what’s your name? “ teacher! Selfie?” “Teacher, how are you?” I will always remember these little creatures with their white-blue school uniforms, the girls with the long black braids, their voices and cute faces.
I have mostly been teaching English from 1st to 13th Grade. I doubt I have ever felt so tired before after having been with the 1st grade (6 years old) for only one lesson. Starting with the very basics in a language they have never listened to before is more than challenging. Since they do not even understand you when you ask them to please be quiet and sit down, it can be very tiring. But definitely also very rewarding. Never before have I ever seen such grateful and motivated kids who even worship their teacher. Unfortunately in Europe kids are no longer taught how to respect their teacher, so this experience has even been more impressive for me.
It has inspired me to now take a TEFL course in South Africa and continue teaching English around the world.
I was very surprised to see how unorganized the school seemed to be. Due to the frequent absence of the teachers, the timetable could not be met. Teachers are normally the second important example right after the parents. But how can they be an example if they show the students how little they care about their job by just showing up whenever they fancy to?
Helping the kids further with their English, teaching them new sports and even giving some piano lessons, was what included my engagement at Horizon Lanka Foundation. I personally believe sports and music is the best way to teach kids about life. They learn so much by just doing it. They learn about what it means to be a team, challenges, motivation, giving 100%, victories & defeats, standing up again over and over again. This will help them throughout their whole life in every kind of situation.
What I personally found very sad, was that the kids in Mahawilachchiya do not really have leisure activities and hobbies. They focus too much on studying (and dancing & computers). For people like me who believe life teaches you everything outside of the school, this was shocking. It is surely also consequence of a lack of material, but kids are the most inventing and creative creatures when it comes to playing.
Mahawilachchiya had turned into a home for me from a very short time after my arrival. This is not only a place you call accommodation, I can cordially call it “home.” It’s the people who make this place so special. From the very first moment (started with the above mentioned woman who organized my transfer) I felt accepted and very welcome in Mahawilachchiya. My beautiful family Yamuna, Upul, Chandra, Umandi with baby Nathasha, Pramodhya and Kaushal welcomed me as their lost eldest daughter who they haven’t seen for a long time. Pramodhya even gave up her room to accommodate me. I spent a lot of time playing, laughing and eating with them and will surely miss this wonderful family. The food was just so delicious (besides the fact that I got overfed.) I loved being their playmate and doll.
The great thing in Mahawilachchiya is that you are welcome everywhere and also all the other families always have an open door for you.
I started to spend half of the nights at Horizon Lanka so I could experience Sri Lankan family life on one hand but also enjoyed volunteers house sharing, which was both great! I can even spend the whole day in the hammock, just doing nothing, and people will still care about me and bring me food and herbal tea. I do have wonderful memories of being in Mahawilachchiya, in the nature, meditating.
3 weeks in Mahawilachchiya have given me many life learning lessons. Even after having been to around 40 countries, I have never seen a place before where people seem to be that much connected with nature and original life. The less you have, the more you appreciate what is around.
Sudu Aka will be back soon!
I spent around 5 weeks (4 weeks before Mahawilachchiya and 1 week after) travelling around Sri Lanka. It is such a wonderful place which has so many things to offer. Whatever you are looking for, you will probably find it in Sri Lanka. It is very diverse and it is so easy and cheap to get around. Meeting other travellers or locals is not hard at all. I tried to avoid other tourists as well as possible and got therefore a very local experience by staying with locals all the time. Due to a lack of English (and Sinhala from my side) it was often very hard to get information from locals about Sri Lanka. You feel so connected with mother earth while being in Sri Lanka and it is such a spiritual, inspiring and relaxing place no one should miss out.
I would like to say cordially thank you to my wonderful family who accepted me as their daughter, to the people of Mahawilachchiya who always welcomed me with open arms and showed me how to be happy with the most basic things, to Nanda and Wasantha for all the inspiring ideas and sharing and to my volunteer mates Mohamed and Irina for the very best company and the lifelong friendship!