How it all started
The history of the Horizon Lanka Foundation already started in 1998. It was established due to the determination of Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka and a group of children from the rural village of Mahawilachchiya. The origins of the foundation can be traced back to a handwritten English language newspaper named Horizon. Mr. Wanninayaka and his students of Saliyamala School started this newspaper. They sent copies of it to government agencies and foreign embassies. Only the United States Embassy, based in Colombo, replied. They were so impressed by the newspaper that they donated Horizon’s first computer. Thus the newspaper could continue in printed form.
Soon after that, Mr. Wanninayaka had to leave his position as an English teacher at the public school because of some irreconcilable differences he had with the school. But it wasn’t long before his former students came knocking at his door, asking him to continue teaching them privately. Their thirst for knowledge and educational advancement led them to the door of him. Thus, an after-school supplementary educational class began under a huge mango tree in Mr. Wanninayaka’s garden. It became a popular place for many children of the village.
A Sri Lankan couple named Mr. and Mrs. Donald and Bhadra Gaminitilleke assisted the foundation immensely in its infancy. They hosted the village children in their residence in Colombo during their trips. Also, the Donalds donated a brand new printer in the year 2000. They informed Sanjeewa Wickramanayake from e-WIS Company of the great work Horizon Lanka carried out. He was so impressed that he donated a computer, too.
Since 1998, the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out. As well as providing an all-round education to the village children at Horizon Academy, they have expanded into the Information Age and served the entire community with their computer lab. In 2001, the website was launched by the children of Horizon Academy in Mahawilachchiya, opening a window to the world.
By 2004 the Horizon Lanka got 24/7 internet access using RLL technology. Doing so, the foundation became the first Sri Lankan rural village to get such a facility even before any fixed line or mobile telephone coverage came to the village.
Horizon Lanka Foundation was also responsible for beginning a project called Digital Butterflies which brought PCs to the homes of the villagers of Mahawilachchiya. Around 400 homes were furnished with a used computer. There were more than 50 used and brand new laptops provided to the senior students through Horizon Lanka’s Digital Ambassadors project.
Furthermore, Horizon Lanka’s innovative ways of teaching English has resulted in scores of students getting A and B grades for the English language portion of the national level exam. Sometimes they were even higher than their grades for their mother tongue, Sinhala! A few scores of students also were able to get into national universities and other higher educational entities.
Further development from 2005 to 2010
In December 2005, Horizon Lanka Foundation had a student population of more than 500 students at the height of its golden age. There were around 10 staff members by that time. One year later the foundation moved to a two storied building constructed in two acres of land. This was a result of the generosity of Mr. Chas and Mrs. Lovina Charles, a family living in the United Kingdom that has Sri Lankan and Indian roots.
In November 2006, Horizon Lanka Foundation was able to secure a grant from the UNDP to build Sri Lanka’s first mesh internet network. Since then, it was possible to connect 28 students’ houses and 2 public schools with Internet. Moreover, Horizon Lanka could persuade Sri Lanka’s biggest mobile operator Dialog Axiata to cover the village with a mobile telephony network. With all these new technologies coming to the village Horizon Lanka was also able to start a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) venture called OnTime Technologies Pvt. Ltd. in May, 2007.
By July 2008, the Ministry of Education in Sri Lanka studied the Horizon Lanka model. They started replicating it islandwide in all 9 provinces with the professional support from Mr. Wanninayaka. A year later, Horizon Lanka was able to secure another grant from Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC). Thus they could rectify existing problems with the mesh network and expand it to the rest of the village too.
Moreover, Horizon Lanka partnered with Plan Sri Lanka to start a blogging-for-education-program in 2010. They did it with 4 public schools in Mahawilachchiya.
History from 2011 to 2009
In February 2011, the Horizon Lanka Foundation had to close down its operations in Mahawilachchiya. For the next three and a half years the children of the village didn’t have the extra educational resources. The foundation returned the new property where the Charlses also donated to Horizon Lanka. The Wi-Fi mesh network that provided internet to the village was also shut down after the return of the facility to the Charlses.
In 2015, Tissa Jinasena Group funded more than a half of the project budget for 2015. Horizon Lanka was able to buy new computers, other equipment and the furniture with this donation. By the end of 2016 around 50 students studied English and computers at the Horizon Academy in Mahawilachchiya. 23 foreign volunteers visited the Horizon Lanka and taught the students.
During 2017, even 60 foreign volunteers worked at Horizon Lanka Foundation. With the constant influx of volunteers, the Horizon Lanka Foundation was able to start 4 new Horizon Academies in 5 villages in Anuradhapura.
Horizon Lanka was able to get 4G coverage from Dialog Axiata in December, 2017 for the whole village. This was much earlier than their original plans to expand the facility to Mahawilachchiya. In 2018 three more Horizon Academies opened in Kirimetiya in Nuwara Eliya, Maniyanthoddam in Jaffna and Ukkulankulama. One year later, two new Horizon Academies opened in Kandy and one in Ampara.
Since 2004, we have hosted over 200 foreign volunteer teachers of English and ICT and a range of other skills. The main strength of the organization was its innovative ways of teaching English and IT and getting the foreign volunteers to teach. But there were terrorist attacks in the various parts of the country in April 2019. The Foundation feared that the influx of foreign volunteers would decrease and this would affect the organization seriously. However, the volunteers kept coming even during that adverse time. And Horizon Lanka continues its journey to provide education to the children in rural Sri Lankan villages.