MAHAWILACHCHIYA, Oct 25 2007 (IPS) – In a north-central village, deep inside Sri Lanka’s backwoods, a young man is glued to a computer screen, pushing a mouse and filling in figures.
This BPO team deep in the backwoods of Sri Lanka competes with city firms for global customers.
Isuru Senevirathna is entering data at Sri Lanka’s first Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) company set up in a village, and probably among the first in the world that is surrounded by tall trees, bird calls, paddy fields and streams.
“It’s nice to be able to do a job like this,” the 20-year-old youth, operations director of OnTime Pvt. Ltd, told IPS..
BPO is a growing IT business which Sri Lanka has taken to quite capably. Dozens of companies are now springing up in Colombo as the world’s best corporations look for cost-effective ways of handling their back-office operations in countries where labour and communications are cheaper than in the West.
But OnTime’s setting, next to a wildlife park, and subject to the occasional threat by Tamil Tiger guerrillas, makes it unique. Mahawilachchiya lies 250 km north of Colombo and the fact that it is close to the ancient town of Anuradhapura is an added feature.
OnTime owes its existence to the vision of Nanda Wanninayaka (better known as ‘Wanni’), an English teacher-turned village entrepreneur. Except for its sylvan location it is no different from the rest of the BPO industry. It boasts of such clients as John Keells, Sri Lanka’ biggest conglomerate, and once the blinds are drawn and with air-conditioners running, it could well be an office in downtown Colombo.
OnTime operators log into an accounting system through a secured link and enter data like prices and inventories. Some 150 documents are handled by one operator per day. New client negotiating with OnTime include Dialog Telekom, Sri Lanka’s biggest mobile phone operator, and Singer, a multinational known for its sewing machines.
“The BPO entry came as we needed to create job opportunities for our youngsters to remain in the village after their initial training in English and IT,” said Wanni.
OnTime is a part of the ‘Horizon Lanka’ initiative launched by Wanni, while still a schoolteacher, in 1998. Starting off as an English teaching exercise for the children of rice farmers, its scope widened dramatically following the gift of a personal computer by the United States embassy.
From there the village quickly progressed into a centre of IT learning where one in every eight families now has a computer (a ratio of 100 computers for 800 families). Impoverished farmers are now reading online newspapers in their ramshackle homes with the help of seven wifi nodes set up using ‘MESH’ technology. The villages have wireless Internet access at all times.
Wanni and his Horizon Lanka exploits are legendary and have been profiled in newspapers and other media across the world. The IT village’s big moment came when Wanni and his best students shared the stage with Intel chairman Craig Barrett in December 2005, during the latter’s visit to Sri Lanka.
Wanni said the idea of setting up a BPO emerged as he pondered over the next stage of development. “Having taught English and then IT, the next issue was where do they get jobs? How can we retain them in the village?”
Enter the Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities in Sri Lanka (FAROLanka) to help Horizon set up its BPO and find its first client. FARO’s help however comes with conditions – Wanni’s support and guidance to help other villages develop on similar lines.
Sponsored by John Keells, OnTime staff received BPO training in Laos and India. For other Mahawilachchiya youngsters, the choice of careers is limited to joining the armed forces (in the case of girls it’s garment factories) or remain in the village as a farmer.
OnTime’s CEO Nirosh Manjula Ranathunga, a 30-year-old university graduate who studied IT while doing his commerce degree, lives in Anuradhapura and visits Horizon only twice a week as he says he can handle operations from his hometown easily over Internet.
Ranathunga is interested in transferring his skills and learning to other villages. “I joined Horizon Lanka two years ago as a project manager and am very happy with this BPO initiative,” he said. Some 50 youths are now being trained to take up BPO jobs in Mahawilachchiya.
In a reversal of sorts, boys and girls from the cities are now visiting Horizon Lanka. “They come here to learn from us,” said Wanni.
Because of their English speaking and writing skills, youngsters here are beginning to write software programmes for overseas companies and individuals earning foreign exchange. They have a far better future – compared to youths from other villages – as computer programmers, software programmers and in related jobs.
“This (OnTime) has helped us to take on the world from this small hamlet,” says 24-year-old Chamila Priyadharshini. Currently in a state-sponsored teachers training course for English, Tamil (language of the biggest minority group) and Japanese, Priyadharshini says she wants to be a trained teacher in three years and spends her spare time teaching IT and English at the Horizon centre.
Replete with a modern gym, video and audio equipment and other electronic modern gadgetry the centre prepares youth for a life in the city, should they choose move out.
Wanni’s current target? ‘’I want to send at least one youngster from here to the prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the United States.’’
MAHAWILACHCHIYA, Anuradhapura – Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) is a growing business globally which Sri Lanka has now cottoned onto quite capably.
Dozens of BPO’s are springing up here as global companies look for cost effective ways of handling their back-office operations in countries where labour and communications are cheaper than the west.
Yet ever heard of a BPO company in a jungle setting, next to a wild life park and subject to the occasional threat by the LTTE? OnTime Pvt Ltd is part of rural Sri Lanka’s first IT village, Horizon Lanka in the backwoods of Mahavilachchiya (adjoining Wilpattu) off Anuradhapura, where a group of youth processes data for a fee.
There is nothing different in the BPO industry in processing information inside the office of the client or the service provider located elsewhere. For example, staff at Mahavilachchiya’s proud company, OnTime, processing marketing data for a John Keells Group subsidiary daily could – if we close the curtains in this nice office surrounded by shady trees and occasional bird calls – very well be inside a JKH office in Colombo. There’s nothing different.
OnTime operators log into a JKH SAP accounting system through a secured link and enter data like prices and quality of suppliers. Some 150 documents are handled by one operator per day. Dialog Telekom and Singer are expected to join OnTime as its next clients with negotiations going on with the two parties.
“The BPO entry came as we needed to create job opportunities for our youngsters to remain in the village after their initial learning in English and IT,” said Nanda Wanninayaka (better known as ‘Wanni”), the village boy-English teacher-turned village entrepreneur.
Horizon Lanka, Sri Lanka’s first IT village, is a revelation itself. Launched by Wanni, as a Mahawilachchiya school teacher, in 1998, the initiative began as an English teaching exercise for the children whose parents were mostly rice farmers. From there with one computer donated by the US embassy, impressed by an English journal that the students did, the village has progressed to a centre of IT learning where one in every eight families has a computer (a ratio of 100 computers for 800 families).
Unheard of before but in these backwoods poor farmers are reading online newspapers in the comfort of their makeshift homes with uptodate computers with the help – unbelievable again – of seven wifi zones under a new technology called MESH. Here a section of the village amidst paddy fields and streams has wireless Internet access at all times.
Wanni and his Horizon Lanka exploits are legendary and profiled in newspapers and TV stations across the world. The IT village’s biggest opportunity probably came when Wanni and his best students shared the stage with Intel Chairman Dr. Craig Barrett in December 2005, during the latter’s visit to Sri Lanka and presence at a major IT conference.
The idea of setting up a BPO emerged as Wanni pondered on the next level of development. “Having taught English and then IT, the next issue was where do they get jobs? How can we retain them in the village?” he asked.
Enter the Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities in Sri Lanka (FAROLanka) to help Horizon set up its BPO and find its first client. FARO’s help however comes with some conditions – Wanni’s support and guidance to help other villages to develop on similar lines which the latter and his team are more than willing to do.
Isuru Senevirathna is OnTime’s Operations Director. He has received BPO training – along with another OnTime employee – in Laos and India sponsored by John Keells.
The 20-year old youth like any other Mahavilachchiya youngster would have had to either join the armed forces (in the case of girls it’s garment factories) or remain in the village as a farmer, until Wanni and his vision came along. Now Isuru is the proud owner of a motor cycle, happy and contended.
OnTime CEO is Nirosh Manjula Ranathunga, a 30 year-old graduate from Kelaniya University who studied IT while doing his B.Com degree. Ranathunga, who lives in Anuradhapura and visits Horizon twice a week saying he can handle operations from his home town easily through email/Internet, is also interested in transferring his skills and learning to other villages. He has his own company, Real Business Solutions, and runs a formerly-owned Horizon Lanka cyber café in Anuradhapura.
“I joined Horizon Lanka two years ago as a project manager and I’am very happy with this BPO initiative,” he said. Some 50 youths are being trained to take up BPO jobs in Mahavilachchiya which has a modern computer lab with 512 KBPS Internet connection. The Horizon Lanka website is www.horizonlanka.org
Mahawilachchiya, a village 245 kms from Colombo is well known among locals and the international community as the first evillage and the village with the highest density of computers compared to any other village in Sri Lanka. Most parts of the village have broadband internet connectivity thanks to the hard work of the CEO of Horizon Lanka Foundation (HLF) T. B. Nanda Wanninayaka.
Today it is the first village to have a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operation, which is totally handled by youngsters who are not only fluent in English and Computer knowledge but also play squash and rugger.
Wanni as he is popularly known has brought a smile to the youth of the village due to years of hard work and not accepting “No” for an answer. The concept of carrying out work for Colombo based and international companies from Mahawilachchiya was contemplated by Wanni even before the term BPO was widely known. Kapila Gunawardena based in the USA visited the HLF and seeing the potential of the youth wanted us to start a BPO operation, said Wanni.
John Keells was introduced to HLF by the Foundation for Advancing Rural Poverty (FARO). This saw the birth of the first BPO operation from rural Mahawilachchiya . The company On-Time Technologies (Pvt) Ltd., the BPO Company based in Mahawilachchiya rents the facility and the IT infrastructure of Horizon Lanka Academy.
Nirosh Ranatunga, a graduate from the University of Kelaniya functions as the CEO while Isuru Seneviratna is a director. John Keells selected one of its subsidiaries Infomate Ltd. to pioneer the outsourcing of transaction processing to On-Time Ltd. John Keells selected Infomate Ltd as they are in the business of providing outsourced accounting service owing to the availability of a high volume of data intensive transactions and the familiarity with the outsourcing model.
The JK strategic group IT division facilitated the setting up of the remote connectivity to JKH systems from Mahavilachchiya and the high internet links of On-Time facilitate data access and transaction processing. Once the secure connectivity was set up a tripartite agreement was signed between John Keells, On-Time Ltd and FARO in May 2007 and there has been no turning back since then.
Infomate transfers digitised images electronically to On-Time and they carry out the processing of invoices and document indexing based on the images. The outsourcing work for Infomate (Pvt) Ltd. is done from Mahawilachchiya using advanced communication technology. At present the operation is handled by four youth of Horizon Lanka Foundation while two are undergoing training at Infomate Ltd.
The staffers of On-Time said that they could break even when the two students join them after the training. At present each operator processes 150 invoices per day.
Nirosh Ranatunga said that a separate data link provided free by LankaCom, is used to connect Mahawilachchiya and JKH avoiding internet for a secured connectivity. Security tokens are being used to make the connectivity more secure but it creates high overheads since we have to pay a monthly rental for each token.
We use two software systems for the BPO operation which is SAP and BPO Mate. SAP is a client server software of which the client is installed at our site and our operators give user names and passwords to connect to the server at JKH.
The BPO Mate a web based system that we access via a web browser giving its URL. Separate user names and passwords are given to our operators for BPO Mate. This is used to retrieve images. The Speed of the datalink is 128 kbps.
Wanni said that they have also signed a contract with Dialog Telekom to process customer data while FARO is in discussion with Singer as well.
He said that since JKH was their first client it was easy to get recognition and secure a client as JKH is well recognised.
Wanni said that creating jobs in the village has opened many opportunities for the youngsters, which were hitherto shut. Without the support and help of JKH and FARO we would not have achieved so much in such a short period of time, said a grateful Wanni.
He said that they would showcase this village as a model for teaching English and IT using modern technology. He said that technology should be accessible to all children be they in the village or city as all children are talented.
He said prior to this project being introduced girls joined garment factories while the boys joined the Armed Forces after completing their education. English and IT has opened a host of opportunities to these youngsters and expanded their horizon as the name implies.
Dr. Ashok Junjunwala of IIT India during his visit had suggested that Anuradhapura be made a BPO district with Mahawilachchiya as the base.
We as Sri Lankans should hope and pray that this becomes a reality sooner than later where every citizen can be proud of the youth of this country. During the training period Infomate takes the trainees through an induction program as well as a structured program in the processing of accounting transactions.
The Social Responsibility Foundation of John Keells also provides the trainees with accommodation during the training period.
The horizon Lanka Academy trains the students in Computers and English and now most of them are so tech savvy that they even have their own blogs, which has helped them, win laptops from donors.
The first lucky blogger to receive a laptop from Dr Ing. E. Leuthold of Switzerland was Tharanga Sampath. Among the other lucky winners are Ranuka Udayanga an 18-year-old Advanced Level student while the other was Hansi Sumedha (16), an O/L student.
The village of Mahavilachchiya got Internet connections before the village got telephone connections thanks to Mesh technology, a project, donated by UNDP. Mahavilachchiya was selected as the testing ground for Mesh technology as it was the village with the highest density of computers.
Hansi Sumedha said that her ambition is to become a doctor. She said, “Before I joined HLF I didn’t have any knowledge of English or computers. Thanks to the teachers of HLF now I have my own blog to which I write often. Most importantly I perform better than my classmates in school. She said that she could use her laptop to do presentations. Her parents are farmers and she has two sisters.
Isuru Seneviratna, now a director of On-Time studied up to the GCE (O/L) in Mahavilachchiya and has been groomed by Wanni from grade four. He sat for his A/L examination in the Science stream from Nivaththaka Chethiya Vidyalaya Anuradhapura. Speaking of Wanni’s teaching methods, he said that he used innovative methods, which made them like the subject.
He was a lucky recipient of a BPO training program, which he underwent in Laos and India for three months. We were fortunate to be trained by David Paulson in Laos. “I got a whole new experience and thanks to that I am very much changed. He also gave us a good training in management.
“I gained a lot of experience at JKH, Laos and India and I don’t know what I would have done if this project was not initiated by Wanninayaka Sir,” said Seneviratne who will be celebrating his 20th birthday this week. His future plans are developing the company and moving to the management side, as that is his pet area.
Nirosh Ranatunga sharing his experience about Laos and India said that Laos is not as developed as our country.
The English knowledge is somewhat good but they have excellent systems while some team members are good in IT. Therefore they follow the systems and do big projects for clients even in the USA.
Ranatunga, a commerce graduate from the University of Kelaniya has done some software projects even while a student and now owns his own software development facility in Anuradhapura. Among his future plans are developing On-Time technologies as well as his private business.
U. B. Seetha, a 54-year-old grandmother of one of the students of Horizon Lanka Academy said that prior to this project nobody knew about computers. Thanks to this project our grandchildren are very knowledgeable and my grandson can even speak in English said the proud grandmother. We even got an opportunity of looking at a computer thanks to HLF and the HLA.
Horizon Lanka Foundation (HLF) is a non profit organisation registered under the Companies Act of Sri Lanka. It has been operating since 1998 in Mahawilachchiya. The Horizon Lanka Foundation was set up in 1998 due to the determination of a group of children from the rural village of Mahawilachchiya.
Their thirst for knowledge and educational advancement led them to the door of Nanda Wanninayaka (now CEO of HL Foundation), their former English teacher in the public school.
Thus began an after school club providing children further education in English and computers.
It has become a popular place for many children of the village. Since 1998, the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out. As well as providing an all-round education to the village children at Horizon Lanka Academy, they have expanded into the Information Age and now service the entire community with their computer lab, which has 24 Internet access.
In 2001, the website www.horizonlanka.org was launched by the children of Horizon Lanka Academy, opening a window to the world. Horizon Lanka Foundation is also responsible for beginning a project, which is bringing PCs to the homes of the villagers of Mahavilachchiya. So far more than 30 homes have been furnished with a computer and this is increasing monthly.
Micro Scholarships is a project of the Horizon Lanka Foundation that aims to help deserving students in their education. Many capable students in rural Sri Lanka are forced to interrupt their schooling because of financial difficulties.
Micro Scholarships ensure that every child covered under the scheme gets a quality education and a happy childhood. Under it, volunteers offer financial assistance that gives the child a small amount of money every month.
Horizon Lanka has fought against all odds to bring the Information Age to the small rural village of Mahavilachchiya.
Our efforts, funded purely by kind donations and sponsorship, are now providing over 100 students of the village with computing skills, access to the Internet, PCs in their homes, an Academy to improve their education specialising in ICT and English and most importantly we are giving the children and community fresh hope for their futures. Nandasiri Wanninayaka, a villager of Mahavilachchiya assumed duties as the English teacher in Saliyamala Public School in 1997.
This visionary thinker taught English to students using very innovative methods and also encouraged the little butterflies to maintain diaries and journals daily.
This made them improve their knowledge of English and win regional competitions as well.
“I am from this village and when I went to the city I had to face many barriers due to the limited knowledge of English. This is the reason I wanted to teach these children so that they not only master it but also become tech savvy and expand their horizons. I am happy about their progress since I groomed them from grade four. Now I want to implement the project in other villages as well, said Wanni.
Horizon Lanka Foundation
However, now I am 19 years old and I am confident that we can do something for our village from the knowledge we gained during a period of about nine years from Horizon Lanka.
‘Horizon Lanka’, the model for taking ICT to the rural villages, is a famous word in Sri Lanka. It is also receiving international recognition. In fact, we never thought of creating a model to take ICT to the rural villages. First, we only wanted to develop our village. For this, we had a great hero to guide us. He is Mr. Nandasiri Wanninaya, our English teacher since 1998. I was 11 years old then.
Mr. Nandasiri was teaching us English in a public school of my village. His teaching method was able to attract us to the subject, although English was a subject hated by most children. Before Mr. Nandasiri it was difficult to learn, as we did not have a teacher who could teach us in a better way. But, Mr. Nandasiri managed to turn the tables. While we were continuing studies, our elder brothers and sisters started a journal called ‘The Horizon’. We wrote stories to that journal and Mr. Nandasiri photocopied them from the nearest town, which is 40 kilometers away from my village. By a stroke of good luck, the US embassy found out about the journal through an article which was written by Mr. Gamini Akmemana for a public English newspaper in Sri Lanka. The US embassy helped us with a 486 model computer and a dot-matrix printer, along with some computer books.
Mr. Nandasiri started teaching us about computers with the knowledge he gained from reading those books, as he himself did not have enough knowledge about computers. Each student got 5 minutes to operate the computer under Mr. Nandasiri’s guidance. This was a fantastic experience for us children of poor farmers.
With Nandasiri sir’s leaving public school, we were really sad since nobody could do Nandasiri sir’s job there. We did not give up our way. We got together as a team and talked him to arrange an English class for us. He accepted our request and started the class under a huge mango tree in his garden. and we did not forget to continue the journal too. A family called Gaminitilake donated a used computer to our English class and we stared a website with their help and uploaded it from the town. Through the website, we got a big publicity throughout the world. It was a big revolution of us. Lot of donors came to us and helped to improve our English and computer knowledge. Eventually we could build a small computer room with the support of donors and the capacity of our parents. This was our journey……
Today we have a modern computer Lab that was donated by Mr & Mrs. Charles. And we could build a tower to connect to the Internet from our village since we had to travel 80 kilometers up and down to access internet from the nearest city ‘Anuradhapura’.
However, now I am 19 years old and I am confident that we can do something for our village from the knowledge we gained during a period of about nine years from Horizon Lanka.
About ten months ago, I realised one of the dream, in my life. I could travel to two countries for a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) training. I never had been out from this small island. But I was lucky to travel to Laos and New Delhi in India with the sponsorship of ICT Agency of Sri Lanka. During that training, we could see practically their operations and the way a BPO company meets the clients’ demand, on time with good quality. Eventually we ended the training and returned to Sri Lanka with the mind of starting our BPO Company in Mahawilachchiya. After a training period of three months, we had an opportunity to start a BPO company in rural Mahawilachchiya village. A foundation called FARO (Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities) is helping us in the initial stage to run the company. Already we have started the company named OnTime Technologies (Pvt) Ltd. John Keells is a major client of us.
We also are discussing with Dialog Telekom Ltd. and Singer Sri Lanka to get some more work for our youth. Around 50 youths are being trained to take up BPO jobs from Mahavilachchiya. Mahavilachchiya has very good infrastructure like a modern computer lab with 512 KBPS internet connection, 50 computers in the village households – 30 of them are connected to Internet through mesh technology – and 7 Wi-Fi zones in the village where you can use your laptops. Through our company, we are offering job opportunities for the youths in the village. This is a big revolution in the village and we are happy to say. This is what we wanted to do. However, we could do it. Now we are using same Horizon Lanka building and Horizon Lanka equipments. In the future, we hope to develop our company as the largest BPO company in Sri Lanka and build a huge building and develop as an our owned company. Nirosh Manjula, who trained with me in Laos and India and I am running this company.
I take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped us to success this journey.
Horizon Lanka Foundation
The Horizon Lanka Foundation was established in 1998 because of the determination of a group of children from the rural village of Mahavilachchiya. Their thirst for knowledge and educational advancement led them to the door of Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka (now CEO of HL Foundation), their former English teacher in the public school. Thus began an after school club providing children further education in English and computers. It has become a popular place for many children of the village. Since 1998, the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out. As well as providing an all round education to the village children at Horizon Lanka Academy, they have expanded into the Information Age and now service the entire community with their computer lab, which has 24h Internet access. In 2001, the website www.horizonlanka.org was launched by the children of Horizon Lanka Academy, opening a window to the world.
HLF is also responsible for beginning a project, which is bringing PCs to the homes of the villagers of Mahavilachchiya. So far more than 30 homes have been furnished with a computer and this is increasing monthly. MicroScholarships is a project of the Horizon Lanka foundation that aims to help deserving students in their education. Many capable students in rural Sri Lanka are forced to interrupt their schooling because of financial difficulties. MicroScholarships ensure that every child covered under the scheme gets a quality education and a happy childhood. Under it, volunteers offer financial assistance that gives the child a small amount of money every month. The efforts, funded purely by kind donations and sponsorship, are now providing over 160 students of the village with computing skills, access to the Internet, PCs in their homes, an Academy to improve their education specializing in ICT and English and most importantly, giving the children and community fresh hope for their futures.
In April 2002, I stumbled upon a web site with the URL horizon77.org. (now this has been changed to www.horizonlanka.org) This website made a great impression on every one who visited it. Gradually word spread around friends and many came forward to help in numerous ways without any hesitation.
I think that it is time to share their success story with all of you to give a clear picture on where is Horizon is today.
Horizon is a classic story of the perseverance, determination and dedication of humble man by the name of Wanninayaka.
In 1998 Wanni started Horizon penniless with one old computer. Today it has transformed in to a non profitable organization “Horizon Lanka Foundation” with asset value of around Rs 9.4 million as at 31 March 2006.
Surrounded by beautiful scenery, this farming village in Mahawilachchiya did not have a single telephone, no mobile coverage and roads leading to it were filled with pot holes. To make matters worse, the villagers always lived in fear due to the terrorist activities happening all around it. Mahawilachchiya is part of the Raja Rata and ancient ruins are abundant. It is close to famous Thanthirimale Raja Maha Viharaya. www.tantirimale.org
Initial help came mainly through expatriates, few foreigners and also from a few locals. The only link with the outside world was through website and e-mails. Back then, communication was very hard, an odd e-mail once a week was the only way for communication. For Wanni this meant that he had to travel 40 KM to the nearest town Anuradhapura with internet access. Without any source of income this itself was a daunting task. The only assets they had were the few old computers that he used to teach children. At this time there were about 20 students learning English and Computers – free of charge.
Then Wanni envisioned the idea of an advisory panel to help Horizon Lanka. I think this was a significant step in the right direction at the time. The initial panel comprised of two gentlemen from USA, one from Canada, one from the Middle East, one from Sri Lanka and two from Australia.
After this, things began to change; first came the computer lab; a single story building which could house about 20 computers. Here, Wanni and few dedicated teachers worked almost 18 hours a day. Teaching the children and learning themselves. The first major road block came regarding funding for this building and controlling of Horizon. A lot of threats and heartache resulted from this to many involved with the project. However, with collective support to Horizon’s management, they managed to overcome this issue. By this time student numbers increased to around 200. All except the computer education, classes were conducted outside in the open.
It was recognised at the time that if Horizon could get 24 hour internet access, the success of the Horizon will be faster. Once again dedicated people from all over the globe funded this project. With the help of LankaCom http://www.lankacom.net, a Sri Lankan internet service provider Horizon managed to get 24 hour internet through a radio link, at considerably low rate. This was the 2nd turning point for Horizon.
Gradually many people donated computers and other agencies and companies such as ICTA, Slimline, Microimage showed increasing interest. The student population increased to more than 200. They started teaching four subjects; mathematics, English, science and computers. IDM Computer Academy offered free scholarships for the senior students of Horizon.
Students started passing O/L with flying colours; the especially higher marks for English are worth mentioning. They learned and mastered graphic design and website development. After adding culture to the curriculum they excelled in dancing, singing and drama without any external help. Horizon maintained the Horizon Lanka web, comparable to leading websites all around the month. They mastered the search engines and manage to exceed 100,000 hits per month. Even with donor criticism for high expenses Wanni decided to dedicate separate web sites for each project. The following are a few of the beautiful websites created by the dedicated children of Horizon.
Today Horizon is reaping the benefits of having these dedicated websites. Gradually the media became interested. The following link shows the extent of media exposure of Horizon. www.horizonlanka.org/media/index.html.
Mastery of web development by the Horizon kids provides ample proof if anyone was to compare a government run school website to the Horizon web site. http://www.schoolnet.lk Aren’t these children from a remote corner of Sri Lanka setting standards for the whole country and the government institutions?
Even today, if there is any place in Sri Lanka with prompt response to e-mails, Horizon is it. It is a place where no one can tell when they go to sleep and when their day begins; such is the dedication of the kids, staff and Wanni.
As with any success; there came the second wave of problems. Most of the students didn’t have money to pay even a nominal fee for running the institution. Their parents, primarily farmers had income that was seasonal. As a result Horizon struggled to pay teacher salaries and other basic necessities such as electricity and internet access. Pressure was mounted by donors to collect fees regularly without understanding the ground situation. Again many donors chipped in and paid teacher salaries, and other bills, greatly helping to stabilize the situation.
Horizon never flourished in isolation they helped nearby schools to acquire computers and internet facilities. Help was given to similar initiatives from other parts of the country, by way of giving publicity, provided contacts and training for the staff. Wanni did not stop there; he highlighted deficiencies in the local hospital to the donors to get help for better health care to the villagers. They trained people in the nearby Police Station, Home guards posts and Army detachment in computer education. In turn they too helped Horizon with great care and dedication; it’s a great achievement and example to all.
Internet Connections to the Public schools in the village
The mesh internet project paved the way for internet access to the whole village through Horizon internet tower. The first ever mesh network sponsored by the UNDP’s Pan Asia R&D Grants Program through the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, was declared open by Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, the Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka on 22nd Nov 2006. The many academics sitting in well paid jobs did not believe that the mesh project would work.
Mahavilachchiya’s mesh Internet project on Sirasa TV
Today, “The Mahavilachchiya e-Village with its high density of computers is a significant chapter in ICT development in the country. This is symbolic and a message for marginal level communities all over the world.”
Success is not only increasing in the education field but roads are being renovated, property values are going up and whole area has found new hope. There are many individual success stories. A national auxiliary force member (Home guard) who was assigned to Horizon for security, learned off a computer during his off duty periods and became a computer teacher is one such story.
Recently one of the Horizon donors bought a two-acre land to launch a long overdue e-farmers pilot project. A young farmer who was virtually illiterate is responsible for cultivating this land. To date he is doing it very successfully using drip irrigation. The Agriculture Department is providing the required guidance and funding for this project.
Dialog Telekom covered Mahawilachchiya with mobile coverage in December 2006 even before it covered bigger towns like Mihinthale in Anuradhapura to appreciate what Horizon Lanka is doing for the community.
The most exciting challenge ever taken by Horizon:
Horizon is launching a BPO project from next week. For this purpose, a new company named Ontime Technologies Pvt Ltd is formed. The share holders for this company will be none other than Wanni and the children and the villagers. This project is in partnership with a non-profit organization called FAROLanka http://www.farolanka.org. John Keels is to outsource its IT work and Dialog Telekom is to setup a call centre in future. If everything goes according to the plan 500 IT jobs and 250 call centre jobs are predicted.
Last year two students were trained for this purpose in Laos and India. Presently other students are being trained in Mahawilachchiya. More training is planned in John Keels, Colombo from this week.
This by no means is an easy task, however, judging from previous successes, I am confident that Wanni would be able to push this through.
Horizon never waited for government funding instead they lead the way. The Government should take a leaf from the experience and the leadership of this small community. Wanni still didn’t have a proper income and a place to live despite being dedicated to uplifting rural life for nine years.
Not only in Mahawilachchiya many dedicated people around the globe worked hundreds of hours voluntarily to see this success story coming to fruition. Contributions made by Horizon staff Deepal, Ranjith and Buddhika in the academic area is worth mentioning.
Buddhika’s story – I thought it is incomplete if I don’t make any mention about Buddhika. He stood behind Wanni in both good and bad times without compromising the loyalty and dedication. Buddhika hails from Mihinthale, family of four, a father with disability lessened the chance of a decent income from farming. Despite these hardships Buddhika volunteered to teach at Horizon. He travels from Mihinthale or from University of Peradeniya, Kandey to Horizon every weekend. He passed the Advanced Level with the best results from his public school and entered the University of Peradeniya. In few months’ time he will graduate as a young Electrical Engineer. Having realised Buddhika’s hardships, an expatriate from Canada contributed Rs15,000.00 to open a grocery shop. He guided Buddhika to mange it with his father and Buddhika followed the instructions to the dot. Many expatriates did not believe it will work. Start a grocery with such a small amount? Within the first 6 months of opening it had enough income to support the family. Today his father’s grocery is a thriving business and has transformed in to a mini wholesale distributor for the area. Budhika’s future direction finally depends on what he wants to do. However to recognise his dedication and contribution, expatriates have plans to help his future studies. I am confident that this young Electrical Engineer will stay with Horizon for many years to come.
If there is any one to replace Wanni to steer Horizon Lanka in the future, inarguably that is Buddhika. I think Wanni’s wish also is that and we all know Buddhika means business.
Horizon is unique; its success cannot be measured only by the number of children attending classes or from their high computer literacy levels. Many other developments happening around Horizon brought benefits to the people at large. It became a role model and a training center for many similar grassroots level initiatives. It gave confidence for people to take initiatives without waiting for government handouts and it set standards for the governments to do their work better to help people, not the middle man or officials. I personally don’t think that the government has learned the lesson yet, even though it is showing some interest.
Horizon is a role model for all expatriates who are willing to contribute to the development of the country. Expatriate contribution to this project is invaluable. However I must confess that the success is due to Wanni’s management, it was in cohesion with local conditions – without letting others to control the project. It is no secret that there were conflicts due to this, however, today we all can be proud of its achievements.
Future projects at Horizon, Mahawilachchiya.
There are many things that have not been implemented to its fullest extent. The E-farmers project and The Horizon Lanka Institute of Applied Arts and Technology are two such projects.
In the IT area, Wanni is planning to provide Wi-Max technology to Mahawilachchiya and set up a satellite TV relay station to broadcast edutainment content through VHF/UHF channels to village households and public schools; if he gets the official barriers cleared.
Krishanthi on her dad’s newspaper reading (Father is an Ethnic Tamil. How they live in Harmony)
There are many lessons for every one to learn through Horizon.
Our beloved country has many dedicated and honest people like Wanni who don’t take NO for an answer. What need is a proper policy frame work and elimination of bureaucracy.
Everyone who helped Horizon in numerous ways should be proud of the achievements of Wanni and Horizon Lanka.
If anyone wants to contribute to Horizon Lanka financially, they can do so via the online payment gateway it set up with Global Giving recently.
Horizon Lanka Foundation has been doing a great service to the education of the children and the youth in Mahawilachchiya area for the past eight odd years. Many individuals and organizations from other countries have noticed this service and have come forward to assist Horizon Lanka Foundation in numerous ways.
Notwithstanding all this assistance from private organizations Horizon Lanka Foundation has been having a very hard time coping up with the problems of not having enough teachers and enough funding to cover the salaries of the teachers and other expenses. In spite of these obstacles, Horizon children have been obtaining very high grades for English at school tests and public exams. Unfortunately, for some reason, the fame of these remarkable achievements shown by our students has not reached the authorities that matter. However, the advent of the mesh internet technology has changed this scenario dramatically. Mesh has become a real head turner. These last two or three months we have had a lot of visitors who are interested in mesh internet technology; the installation and implementation of the mesh network and its potential in the role of e-learning, e-commerce and e-governance.
Today we had the pleasure of welcoming a very important visitor to Mahawilachchiya and Horizon Lanka Foundation. This distinguished visitor is none other than the Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Mr. Ariyaratne Hewage. In fact, there were two VIPs from the Ministry. The other one is Mr. Anura Dissanayake, the Project Director of the Secondary Education Modernization Project, who is doing a lot to uplift ICT education in the public schools in the country.
Mr W M Samarasinghe, the newly appointed Provincial Educational Director of Anuradhapura and the Zonal Director of Anuradhapura also joined the team to visit Horizon Lanka. Mr M. B. Illangasinghe, one of the teachers who taught English to Mr Wanni also joined the tour. He is to take up a teaching assignment at the HL Academy soon.
They came with a team of Provincial Project Managers and School Computer Learning Center Managers of SchoolNet program to see how Horizon Lanka Academy works and how it improves the education of children and youth of Mahawilachchiya. Mr. Dissanayake, who is a genuine admirer of Horizon Lanka, said that his team wanted to learn from the experiences of Horizon Lanka Foundation about introducing ICT culture at the village level. He said “My team is ready to run an extra mile to help the surrounding community to improve their life standards. Those five are representing remote village settings in Uva, Southern, Central, Northwestern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.”
Students of the Horizon Lanka Academy, clad in yellow T-shirts with Horizon logo, welcomed the visitors with a traditional sheaf of betel at the main gate. They watched enthusiastically while the Headmaster of Horizon Lanka Academy Mr. Ranjith Pushpakumara conducted the morning assembly. Then an officer from Sri Lanka Army took over and led the students to the nearby playground for PT.
Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka, the Founder of Horizon Lanka Foundation introduced the staff of Horizon Lanka Foundation and other guests to the visitors and an informal meeting with the parents followed. The parents talked with the Secretary about their burning problems – mainly the shortage of teachers in public schools in the area. The principals of the schools in Mahawilachchiya area also talked about these issues. This is the first time a Secretary to the Ministry of Education visited Mahawilachchiya and Mr Hewage goes down in the annals of the history of Mahavilachchiya.
Here, Mr Wanni introduced Mr R Dharmadasa, a former Principal of Thakshila School to Mr Hewage. Mr Dharmadasa, a retired Principal is the man who should get the credit of making Wanni a productive man since the latter’s childhood at Thakshila Public School till today as Wanni still seeks advice from his beloved head master when it matters most. Mr Dharmadasa is the Chief Advisor of the HL Academy’s Parents’ Association as well.
The Secretary listened very patiently, most of the time nodding in agreement, to the villagers and the school principals. He said that he is not unaware of these issues; not limited to Mahawilachchiya area, and he is doing whatever is possible in his capacity to solve all these problems. Mr. Hewage further stated that the government is taking steps to recruit teachers from the same area to teach in local schools and they have to select a school from a list. Then they have no reason to ask for transfers to other areas as they work in the schools of their own choice. This idea was first discussed when Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Presidential Secretary, came to visit Mahawilachchiya and now it is being implemented. We are very fortunate to have officials who are true to their words and who take the responsibilities vested upon them seriously.
Mr. Hewage said he has a plan to build Teachers Quarters for the schools in a given area at a central location facilitating the teachers to live close to each other, which would help to overcome isolation and loneliness. This will place the teachers in a setting where they can work as a team, which will be very helpful in increasing the quality of their services. Mr. Wanni assured the parents and students who were present that he had full faith in officials like Mr. Hewage, who have a good vision, right attitudes and a genuine, keen interest in improving the level of education in Sri Lanka. He said it is due to the age-old laws, rules and regulations, which are not relevant in the present setup and the negative attitudes of certain officers in the middle management that the education is suffering. But Mr Hewage pointed out that creative officials and principals are shrewd enough to go between the lines when it comes to being practical in work to produce good results with the existing rules and regulations. It is not the circulars that slow down or disturb work but the people who are in those positions of making decisions.
Mr. Hewage promised the parents that Mahawilachchiya will be given priority over all other areas because of the Model eVillage Project and fill all the teacher vacancies without any delay. He instructed the North Central Provincial Director of Education to take every step necessary to fulfill these needs. Mahawilachchiya also will be considered in selecting one of its schools as a prestigious “Isuru School” in time to come and will be provided all the necessary resources to the selected school.
Then the team proceeded to the Computer Laboratory to watch some presentations. The first of these was the presentation on Horizon Lanka Foundation by the Founder/CEO Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka. He showed the visitors, through a very colorful multimedia presentation, the gigantic progress achieved by the Horizon Lanka Foundation starting from the events that led him to leave his job as an English Teacher at a government school. He impressed the audience with his diplomatic but forceful speech talking about the obstacles he had to overcome on his e-journey which took him to various parts of the world on a quest to learn the uses of ICT for rural community development, the result of which is the making of the first e-Village in Sri Lanka. He revealed his uncanny futuristic vision by telling the audience about his future plans, which include introducing Wi-Max technology to Mahawilachchiya and setting up of a satellite TV relay station to broadcast edutainment content through VHF/UHF channels to village households and public schools if he gets the official barriers cleared. (No one believed that mesh network would be possible when he first talked about it but it did become a reality and there is no reason why his other dreams should fail.)
Next came the presentation by the senior students of Horizon Lanka Academy. They described the audience Horizon Lanka’s ICT plan.
Mr. Ranjith Pushpakumara, the Headmaster of Horizon Lanka Academy, came forward to give a very informative presentation on how he managed to achieve these tremendous academic results, working in the Horizon Lanka Academy in Mahawilachchiya only on Saturdays and during school vacations as he is a teacher at a government school. He pointed out that he has allowed a lot of freedom for his young learners in the planning of his curriculum and his syllabi – especially the ICT syllabus – is more practical and activity oriented. He said he always strives to motivate the learners to self-learn using the hi-tech equipment available at the Horizon Lanka Academy. He went on to explain the importance of using this computer and multimedia equipment in a classroom environment where you teach a second language. He said that the assistance he got from foreign volunteers in teaching English at HL Academy was invaluable. He explained the importance of activity based teaching methods using sports, western music, and outdoor activities. These activities help to give the learners a sound English education and to motivate them towards active participation in the learning process. The group outdoor activities like Shramadana Campaigns help to inculcate positive attitudes in them. Then he talked about the present barriers that block his progress like the shortage of funds for the teachers’ salaries and the lack of trained teachers for ICT and coaches for sports.
While the presentations were going on the villagers brought fresh young coconuts, which the visitors enjoyed drinking straight out of the nut. This is symbolic of the way Horizon Lanka Foundation has been operating since its inception. Embracing new technologies and making use of them to develop the village but keeping the traditional cultural values intact.
The final presentation was done by Mr S. K. Nandana, the Principal of Thakshila Public School on how much the public schools in the area have achieved despite all odds. He convinced the audience that a lot can be achieved by utilizing what is available rather than waiting for manna from heaven. One can see this if one visits the school he has developed with the minimum resources he had. This was the same school where Mr Wanninayaka had his primary and secondary education. As a goodwill gesture, Horizon Lanka Foundation donated a totally free 24/7 internet connection to this school and another free mesh internet connection to Saliyamala Public School where Mr Wanninayaka did his first teaching job.
After the presentations the visitors were invited to a sumptuous lunch comprising of red and white rice, curries of fresh vegetables straight from the village gardens and fresh water fish from the Mahawilachchiya reservoir followed by a dessert of fresh fruit. They enjoyed and admired the hospitality for which our villagers are world famous.
The visitors were next taken to see the banana plantation using the new drip irrigation system. This banana plantation is a result of the hard labor of Mr. Shantha, a Home Guard attached to the Mahawilachchiya police post. He has worked in his spare time developing this piece of land owned by Mr. Harin de S Wijerathne, a long time donor of Horizon who has sacrificed a great deal of his time and money to assist Horizon Lanka Foundation to realize its dreams. Mr Harin’s idea is that to show the villagers the proper way of cultivating with the right technology and timely planning so that the other farmers in the village can learn from the pilot and become successful farmers. Mr. Hewage surprised all of us by showing his knowledge and interest in agricultural matters when he instructed as to how the weeding etc. should be done. He also promised to look into opportunities how Shantha, the farmer can be given further training with the Agricultural institutes in Bibile where a hybrid type of oranges and other fruits are grown.
After that, the team was taken to see the mesh technology at work. This was undoubtedly the most important item in the agenda of the visiting team. They were very enthusiastic to learn how mesh works and the way it is being used in Mahawilachchiya. They were more than surprised by the technical awareness and the familiarity with the computers and internet these village students showed. Mr. Wanni explained to them how mesh was installed, how it works and what benefits a network like this can offer a rural village in the development process. All the Provincial Directors and Computer Learning Center Managers were very excited about this comparatively low cost solution for the connectivity at the village level. They were very impressed with the Business Process Outsourcing work the students are being trained to do. This BPO work enables them to earn a considerable amount of money working for companies in Sri Lanka, USA and Europe in their spare time, working from home using internet through mesh network. Ranuka Udayanga, a Grade 12 student showed the educational content site called Horizon Lanka Virtual Academy he has been developing for OpenWorld Learning, USA and the visitors were flabbergasted. These lessons are accessed by students worldwide, especially those who have less access to teachers physically. This idea of virtual academies are best suited to postwar countries such as Afghanistan, etc. and may be Sri Lanka’s North and East too in near future. Having lessons in a central server and enabling students island wide through WiMax technology wouldn’t be a dream within next few years to come. Dialog Telekom has already done a survey in Mahavilachchiya on feasibility of using WiMax.
After seeing the marvelous achievements that Horizon Lanka Foundation had made possible in the village of Mahawilachchiya through ICT education and the introduction of mesh technology, the visitors returned to their vehicles visibly shaking their heads in disbelief. Then they returned to the Horizon Lanka premises and watched the boys playing a cricket match while girls were playing a soccer match. Mr. Ranjith Pushpakumara and some students were running a commentary in English over the PA system and it proved to be very interesting to the visiting team. Mr Ranjith was practicing what he preached in his presentation, using sports to improve English language skills. Mr. Hewage and Mr. Dissanayake spent some time talking with the students and they really enjoyed this experience. One student told the writer later that she felt scared at first when Mr. Hewage came and talked to her but that fear vanished soon. ‘How nice if all the big officials are so pleasant and approachable like Mr. Hewage’, she added.
As the day was coming to an end, the visitors bid farewell to the members of Mahawilachchiya eVillage and Horizon Lanka Foundation. They reluctantly got into their vehicles to begin the long journey back home. These pioneers in ICT education from all over Sri Lanka had seen a lot, learned a lot and they definitely took with them the memory of an unforgettable experience, an inspiration that would help them spread the ICT culture they came into contact in Mahawilachchiya – the e-Village in the jungle.
Dear Chief Guest, Mr. Lalith Weerathunga, the Chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and the Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka, all the guests from the President’s Office, officials from ICT Agency of Sri Lanka and Enterprise Technology Pvt Ltd. and Bartleet Group, personnel from police, army and home guards, friends, parents, villagers and the students.
We welcome you all to this historical event. Horizon Lanka Foundation has been creating history for the past 8 years and we are about to launch our latest innovation, the implementation of mesh technology, to provide internet access to 28 households and 2 public schools in Mahawilachchiya.
The non-availability of an internet connection for Horizon Lanka for 6 years could not hamper our growth. But when we were able to get internet from innovative LankaCom, the only Internet Service Provider who had the capability to provide us with Internet, we realized the amazing strength of it.
Thanks to Internet and emails, students started getting A grades for English and the learning process became very exciting and enjoyable for the students and the teaching process became much easier for the teachers. Our website www.horizonlanka.org could be regularly updated and it made our website one of the most visited Sri Lankan sites in the world.
Let me brief you how mesh became a reality. At an e Society exhibition held in Colombo in 2004, Mr Chanuka Wattegama and Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara sparkled the first flame for mesh. Having heard that Mahawilachchiya is the village with the highest computer density of, they suggested that mesh technology could be easily implemented in Mahawilachchiya. Miss Rehana Wijesinghe’s smart writing saw to the funding aspect, and UNDP and other funding agencies extended their support. We also thank Manju Haththotuwa, then CEO of ICTA for playing an active role in this project.
When everything was well set to start the project, the next hurdle was the problem of getting permission for the frequency. Licensing cost us a huge amount of money and if we have to renew the licenses for the next year too it will be a big blow to the project. We expect that the TRC would take actions to free this frequency enabling us to replicate mesh in other parts of Sri Lanka as well. I have learnt that this particular frequency is free in other countries.
Next big challenge was to increase the existing bandwidth 128 kilo bytes per second to cater to the needs of 30 internet connections. Bandwidth was not sufficient at all as all the students started sharing the same connection as soon as public schools were closed. We thank Lanka Com for increasing bandwidth up to 256 kilo bytes per second on our request even before the agreements were signed. LankaCom promptly increased the bandwdith to enable mesh to be proactive. We have to mention here that we would need at least 1 Mega bytes bandwidth for mesh network as mesh network is likely to expand up to around 100 PCs soon. In some of the students’ houses there are up to five PCs and they are already working on small networks inside their houses to enable Internet access to multiple users in the families. We also provided internet to two public schools and we will ensure both the schools expand their computer projects within the next few months. We have already been able to provide a brand new PCs and peripherals to Saliyamala Public School and we are trying to do the same with Thakshila Public School. We want to ensure that these two schools have computer labs each comprising of 25 PCs . Both the schools cater to about a 1000 students.
We also provided few PCs to Mahawilachchiya police station and the nearby police post. Hundreds of police officers and home guards learn computers fast and there is already a big demand for their PCs to be connected to mesh. So, we hope that ICT Agency will increase our bandwidth up to 1 Mega bytes to cater to this growing demand as they have always done in the past.
Our aim is to produce over a 1000 IT skilled youth from Mahawilachchiya within next three years so that we could use their technical know-how in the Business Process Outsourcing project we are going to start shortly. Hope the donors and well-wishers will help us by providing us PCs for this ambitious plan. Even used PCs are welcome.
In all our projects we always go the extra mile. We are doing a live webcast of this inauguration on an online radio station called Ahamu Online Radio. You can listen to live updates from Mahawilachchiya on www.ahamu.com. Two of our students, Ruvini Senevirathna and Ruwan Laksiri are doing the live program, and they hope to work with Ahamu Radio frequently from their homes by updating news from Mahawilachchiya in future too.
We partnered with ICT Agency of Sri Lanka to make Mahawilachchiya an e Village in 2005. We are almost there now with all the innovations coming up. Our next move is to start a BPO project here for the IT skilled youth to work. We are being backed by FARO and ICTA in this venture. But we still have a few barriers to overcome for this.
First challenge is road conditions in Mahawilachchiya. Road to Mahawilachchiya up to Oyamaduwa is excellent but from there onwards it is in a dilapidated condition. We hope His Excellency the President will help the village by repairing the road to Mahawilachchiya via Anuradhapura and Nochchiyagama. Not to mention the roads inside the village too. Our to-be-investors’ main worry was the road conditions here. We get visitors from both Colombo and overseas every week and they find it difficult to travel due to bad road conditions.
Next problem is frequently fluctuating electricity in Mahawilachchiya. We had a problem even this morning and were in a big trouble. Buying a generator would not be an answer as our operations are done at 30 places through mesh now. We need the government attention on this issue as well.
We also have the absence of a mobile phone network within the village but Dialog Telekom is said to be working on covering Mahawilachchiya soon on our request.
We have done what is humanly possible and even impossible for the future of Mahawilachchiya. Now it is the time for the government to play a bigger role in developing infrastructure in and around Mahawilachchiya. If the government helps us doing it, hope we can make Mahawilachchiya another Andra Pradesh or Bangalore using ICT. We also seek the help of the private sector for this.
A historical event took place today at Horizon Lanka Foundation at Mahawilachchiya. According to Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka, Horizon Lanka Foundation has been creating history for the past 8 years.
” The first ever mesh network sponsored by the Pan Asia R&D Grants Program through the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, was declared open by Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, the secretary to the President of Sri Lanka and the chairman of the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Regulatory Committee. Many distinguished guests, including Mr. Sunil C. Wijesinghe, Deputy Chairman Bartleet Group, Prianca Perera, a Director at Bartleet Group, Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara, Managing Director of Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd – the company who made this groundbreaking project a success – Mrs. Chitranganie Mubarak, Programme Manager – e-Society Development Initiative of ICTA and Mr. Chanuka Wattegama, a former veteran journalist in the field of ICT, graced the occasion.
In its press release on mesh inauguration, the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) stated, “The Mahawilachchiya e-Village with its high density of computers is a significant chapter in ICT development in the country. Over 400 rural students receive ICT education and it is the only rural Sri Lankan village with 24 hours internet connectivity. Secondary level students are now commissioned to design websites and are currently earning more than their parents who are mostly farmers. This is symbolic and a message for marginal level communities all over the world.”
Mr. Lalith Weeratunga began his eloquent speech, which mesmerized the audience, quoting from the book ‘Ignited Minds’, written by the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam,
“Dream, dream, dream…
Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action.’’
He was referring to the man who had a dream and who was tenacious and resilient enough not to give up or look back until he made his dreams come true. The man who really transformed his dreams into thoughts, which resulted in action that overwhelmed the whole nation; Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka, popularly known as ‘Wanni’, is the founder of Horizon Lanka Foundation. He is the man, according to Mr. Weeratunga, who ‘inspired the spirit within the children’ of the poor remote village Mahawilachchiya where he was born. He has worked hard for a long time together with the ‘inspired’ children and they have transformed Mahawilachchiya into the first e-village in the country. Mr. Weeratunga promised to do everything possible in his official capacities to help Horizon Lanka and Mahawilachchiya, and other similar projects. He resolutely stated, “Take my word I will certainly go into this thoroughly.”
Mr. Weeratunga, went on to quote again from the preface of this book he said he specially selected for this occasion from ‘the huge collection of books’ he has accumulated over time, “I have written this book as an expression of my faith in the potential of India, and my countrymen.” He called Abdul Kalam ‘a man who loved India’. Then he said, “Let me say this; that we have faith in the potential of Sri Lanka and our countrymen. You (Wanni) have exemplified this.” Aren’t these the words of a man who loves Sri Lanka? His words, “I was offered many times to live abroad, the latest was in 1998 but I never want to leave Sri Lanka. I want to make sure that this is a place that we can be proud of.” tell us how he loves Sri Lanka, the motherland of us all.
He said that he “could have never imagined this kind of thing ever happening in Mahawilachchiya”, which he first visited in 1977. “This is not what I saw at that time 30 years ago, it was quite different and I think now I see a totally different Mahawilachchiya; you (Wanni) have taken it to a realm which I could have never imagined, not even in my wildest dreams that I could have imagined Mahawilachchiya would be like this but you have taken it not through normal routes.”
“The usual development is we build the roads, we build the small irrigation channels, we build the business opportunities of people, we build the school, we build the hospital; that is the normal kind of development that you do. We have done this for the last fifty odd years. But where have we gone? There are places where there is good infrastructure but people have not developed. There are places like Mahawilachchiya where you do not have the infrastructure, but your people are highly developed.”
Mr. Weeratunga had a proposition to make to Wanni and his team, “I think what we see here today is replicable. I want to ask your help in the creation of at least 325 e-villages because we have 325 Divisional Secretaries Divisions in this country. So at least if we can select one village per division, I think Wanni can walk us through because you have gone through the whole mill.”
Mr. Weeratunga further speculated on the issue of creating e-villages, “I invited Wanni to spearhead this whole task. Also, let Horizon Lanka be the training ground for those 325 champions that we are going to find. But you could all be the champions of champions. We have a fantastic programme in Mahinda Chinthana called ‘Gama Neguma’, which is to ensure that the village is developed in the total sense. Had I known, or had Mr. Rajapaksa known about e-village concept we would have definitely put it in ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’, I am sure. Now that you have done it, it doesn’t have to be in that book but we can always copy, we can always work with you. I don’t want to do something different; I want to learn from you. And then do it the way it has come through. This is not top driven, this is bottom driven. That is why it is a success.”
Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara, Managing Director of ETPL, gave a presentation on mesh technology in which he described briefly but very clearly what mesh is, and the immense potential it can bring about in developing the rural life. Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd. is one of the premier Network Systems Integrators in Sri Lanka who provide ICT solutions for major Sri Lankan corporations and institutions. They recently started to focus on low cost networking solutions to rural areas.
ETPL, in a recent press release, called this “a pilot project, a model from which other rural villages can also benefit.” It also says that “the villagers in rural areas will be able to gain information and be knowledgeable to help stimulate economic growth by creating new products, increasing productivity and promoting new commercial and administrative methods. In addition to economic development, this connectivity would foster social development, cohesion and inclusion, through its applications in education, health and increased citizen participation in civil society and government.” (Read the complete press release.)
According to Mrs. Chitranganie Mubarak, Programme Manager – e-Society Development Initiative of ICTA “ICTA is always behind Horizon Lanka.” She also added, “We are very proud and this is a village we sight as a model to everybody else we talk to. We are thankful to Horizon Lanka because they are the ones who opened our eyes to what is possible at village level and we have taken it to other villages.” The ICTA had extended its helping hand to Horizon Lanka on many occasions. They are the ones who gave us the internet connection and Mrs. Mubarak happily announced that they had signed the contract doubling the bandwidth, up to 256 kbps, just the day before. And the Agency was behind us in the advanced training of our senior students.
“Just giving connectivity will not be enough. We know that people need to be helped in their capacities and we have taken Nirosh and Chamila, two people from the Horizon Lanka Academy, to India on a training program. Our vision is also that these villages to take that step to become a BPO business and we funded two of them, Isuru and Nirosh, in training travel to Laos and Delhi. That has again opened up a whole range of opportunities.”
Some students of Horizon Lanka Academy made a couple of presentations using the ICT skills they have acquired at the Academy , speaking in fluent English, which proved that they can compete with students from any big school in Colombo. Mr. Sunil C. Wijesinghe commented that ‘I wouldn’t see that kind of children in Colombo.’
They said in one of their presentations, “We believe that there should be an ICT culture in Mahawilachchiya… However, our knowledge in this area is still limited but we hope to improve it in the future. Horizon Lanka’s founder, Mr. Wanninayaka’s dream is to send one of the Horizon Lanka students to study at MIT in the United States. We also hope to start e-learning if someone can help us. We are helping ICT educational projects in Ampara and Monaragala now.”
They further added, “We don’t have a single mobile phone company covering Mahawilachchiya. Having listened to our request, Dialog Telekom provided mobile coverage within 50-meter radius around Horizon Lanka last year. They are going to cover the whole village soon…”
Wanni started his short but forceful speech by reminiscing how it all began, “At an e-Society exhibition held in Colombo in 2004, Mr. Chanuka Wattegama and Mr. Kithsiri Gunasekara sparked the first flame for mesh. Having heard that Mahawilachchiya is the village with the highest computer density, they suggested that mesh technology could be easily implemented in Mahawilachchiya.”
Wanni said that the biggest hurdle they faced in the implementation of the Mesh was “The problem of getting permission for the frequency. Licensing cost us a huge amount of money. We expect that the TRC would take actions to free this frequency enabling us to replicate mesh in other parts of Sri Lanka as well. I have learnt that this particular frequency is free in other countries.”
He requested the ICTA to increase the bandwidth – as they have always done in the past in responding to the growing demand- at least up to 1Mb, to accommodate the expansion of the Mesh that will take place in immediate future, with the proposed addition of new computers to the 2 schools and the small home networks that students are building in their houses, which will result in a network of more than 100 computers.
Drawing the attention to the barriers Horizon Lanka still has to overcome in launching the BPO Project Wanni said, “Our to-be-investors’ main worry was the road conditions here. We get visitors every week and they find it difficult to travel due to bad road conditions. Then he expressed his hope that, “His Excellency the President will help the village by repairing the road to Mahawilachchiya via Anuradhapura and Nochchiyagama; not to mention the roads inside the village too.”
Speaking further about the problems Horizon Lanka has to face he said that we need government intervention about the frequently fluctuating electricity in the village too.
In conclusion Wanni, with the look of the same undefeated determination one can always see on his face, assured the audience that, “If the government, and also the private sector, help us we can make Mahawilachchiya another Andra Pradesh or Bangalore using ICT.”
Hansi Sumedha, a grade 10 student of Horizon Lanka Academy called the implementing a mesh network in Mahawilachchiya ‘our mammoth achievement’ in her vote of thanks.
The sponsors for the project are,
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP)
Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMICC)
International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC)
Pan Asia Networking
Partners who worked with Horizon Lanka to make this venture are the Telecom Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, the Information and Communication Technology Agency, the Asia Media Information Centre, and Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Limited.