Speech I made at the Opening Ceremony of the Horizon Lanka’s New Building

Wanni addressing the people

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Reverend Sirs, Mr. & Mrs. Charles, distinguished guests, children, parents and the well-wishers of Horizon Lanka.

It’s a privilege to me to welcome you all at a time Horizon Lanka achieves a prestigious milestone.

Let me take you back to the beginning of the beginning.

Horizon started with the first 486 model PC given by the US Embassy in Sri Lanka seven years ago. Mr. Gamini Akmeemana, the journalist from the Daily Mirror was the one who opened the eyes of the rest of the world to Horizon. Then came the Gaminitillakes who saw the potential in Horizon at a time when nobody else dared to visit Mahavilachchiya.

We then had Mr. Thushara Wijerathna, Mr. Mahen Kariyawasam and their likes. Mr. Kumara Badhuge played an immense role in helping Horizon to have a firm footing in the ICT arena, while LearnAid, Kuwait and Lak Saviya, Australia gave it sustenance in difficult situations. Mr. Harin de S Wijeratne was the one who saved both Horizon and me at a time when I was beset with ill health and at a time when Horizon was struggling with financial problems.

In December 2004 there came an angel to Horizon Lanka from the United Kingdom. This angel was none other than Miss Marissa Charles, the first ever foreign volunteer who opened the door for all the other volunteers who chipped in later. If any of the students, parents, staff members enjoy more democracy today it was due to this remarkable woman, Miss Marissa. I was perceived as a dictator by some before she came. She changed my attitudes towards my life and that of Horizon Lanka.

Then came Mr. and Mrs. Charles, the parents of Miss Marissa. They bought this land and built this new building for the children of Mahavilachchiya. One year ago, we couldn’t imagine even in our wildest dreams ever having high class facilities like these.

Institutions like Hoppertravels, MicroImage, Slimline, Dialog Telekom and Intel made remarkable contributions to Horizon Lanka. Then came the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, and theyare with us here to make Mahavilachchiya a model eVillage. (I am glad that the Honorable Chief Minister of North Central Province is here with us today because you realized how difficult it is to reach Horizon Lanka as the road conditions are very bad inside the village though the road from Anuradhapura to Mahavilachchiya is well repaired. As a person who loves to see Mahavilachchiya being developed, I hope you would take personal interest in developing the road conditions within the village because it is useless talking about making Mahavilachchiya an electronic village if the road conditions are this bad.)

Coming back to ICTA, we hope that the ICTA will be with us to replicate the Horizon Lanka model throughout the island creating many an eVillage all over Sri Lanka as it is the vision and mission of His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksha who is hailed as a common man’s president. My sincere thanks go to the World Bank as well because of their financial contribution towards the e-Sri Lanka initiative.

United States of America has played a big role in Horizon Lanka right from the beginning. They gave us the first PC. I*EARN- USA gave me a very good insight into some relevant aspects of USA by taking me to USA way back in the year 2000. Mark Frazier and Openworld LLC keep giving us the technological support and good exposure in USA. Geneva Global and USAID joined us last year by providing the equipment we could never imagine we could buy. Above all, I thank USA for Denzel Washington and the movie “Remember the Titans” which I saw in USA as this was the movie that changed me to aim to be a constant winner and a disciplinarian. The teamwork you see at Horizon Lanka is what I learned from this movie.

I apologize for not being able to mention all the names of the support base of Horizon Lanka as the list is too long. You will be surprised to see how Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and many other communities throughout the world rallied round Horizon Lanka since its inception. None ever asked about the nationalities of the children in this village before helping, and nobody wanted to change the existing religious beliefs and positive cultural values.

We highly appreciate both the electronic and print media – and the village gossipers – for giving us unprecedented publicity. The former two haven’t said anything bad about us yet and we invite them to criticize us too in the same way they admired us if we make mistakes: we want to correct our mistakes.

If anyone wants to give credits to me personally please forward it to all my students, staff and villagers.

I especially appreciate Mr. R Dharmadasa, the retired Principal and Mr. Dian Gomes, the CEO of Slimline Ltd – the former my mentor, the latter my motivator – for teaching me how to stay steadfast during the worst times. They were full of inspiration, and this country needs more people like them.

I highly appreciate the staff of ICTA for being with us during the most difficult times. Sometimes they had to forget all the official protocols and work with me like brothers and sisters to get the work going. Hats off to you all.

Mr. Manju Haththotuwa, the CEO of ICTA, Dr. Hans Wijesuriya, and Mr Mothilal de Silva the CEO and the General Manager of Dialog Telekom, Mr Theja Athukorala, the CEO of Simplex, Anuradhapura, Nuwan Samaranayake, the founder of Lak Daruwo, Sarath Kumara and Lak Saviya, Australia get a special mention from me due to very personal reasons too. When we had to leave the village two weeks ago at an unexpected time, we were financially and digitally handicapped but all those whom I mentioned came in to help and saved both me and Horizon Lanka as well. Without Internet access to my laptop provided with the help of Manju and Dialog Telekom, this opening ceremony would have been a total flop. The great irony behind this is that all those who helped me at this very difficult time were the ones who had a very hard time with me in the past. They were ready to forget all those issues and came to help as they all love Horizon Lanka than they love me. They wanted to save me because Horizon Lanka is too young and without me, it is immature to exist.

If those who had differences with me could get together to take Horizon Lanka forward, why shouldn’t all the others here join hands to take it forward some more? Again, the fault is with me. I am too adamant and stubborn.

Everything I do becomes controversial. Everything I don’t do becomes controversial as well. Everything I say becomes controversial, everything I don’t say becomes controversial, too. But Horizon Lanka is where it is today due to the controversies it got involved in, due to the controversies I got involved it. Making Mahavilachchiya an eVillage itself was controversial. I am often considered stubborn. I AM stubborn. Mahavilachchiya is where it is today due to that stubbornness. If I were a timid and backward person, we wouldn’t have even imagined going this far. Even at a traditional religious procession (perahera) there are these whip crackers who crack whips at the very front of the procession to make way for the performers who are to follow. So, I had to be the whip cracker and now the young performers at Horizon Lanka can perform comfortably.

I have no ill feelings towards any of you. Those who gave me a hard time during last couple of years are not my enemies. It is because of their constant barricades that I became strong and Horizon Lanka became even stronger. We thank them all for giving us a very tough time. We became too tough to beat. Enemies of mine are not you. Enemies of Horizon Lanka are not you. Enemies of all of us are poverty, ignorance, and disharmony. Let’s fight those enemies together.

One final request. Do not judge me or Horizon Lanka by what we have done to date. Judge us in 10 years’ time. Then only you can either credit us or discredit us for what we have done. Then only you can give us our place in the history of Mahavilachchiya.

Thank you very much for all of you.

Nandasiri Wanninayaka

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