I was invited to Kyushu University in Japan to make a presentation on “Sri Lanka, Toward Peace Keeping” by the Asian Symbiosis Society in Fukuoka in November 2011. In fact, Mr. Horikawa from the same organization had visited Horizon Lanka with Mr. Preethi Sumanasekara of Sri Lanka Port Authority a few years ago and the former donated a few used laptops and English-Japanese dictionaries to the students. He was greatly impressed by Horizon Lanka.
I went to Japan via Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taipe using Cathay Pacific airline. Once I reached the Fukuoka Airport, it was close to midnight and Professor Ozawa from Kyushu University was already there in the airport to accompany me to the hotel. The ride on a highway was exciting. To my surprise, none of the staff members in the reception table of the hotel understood any English. But it was a fairly big hotel.
The next day morning Mr. Horikawa came to the hotel to take me to the University but I was still asleep due to jet lag. After the call to the hotel room from my friend, I had to dress up and skip the breakfast to go to the presentation. We arrived at the university very early in the morning amidst a drizzle. Few people from Japan, a professor from South Korea and another Professor from India made presentations. They all did their presentations in Japanese and mine was the only English language presentation. Mr. Horikawa translated it to Japanese paragraph by paragraph. There was an interesting interactive session after the presentations and a load of questions were thrown to the presenters.
There was a cocktail party after the presentations. We went directly to a karaoke parlor after the party and Mr. Horikawa, Professor Ozawa and many others sang with karaoke music. Though most of the Japanese do not speak English, they sing in English perfectly well. We spent some good time in the karaoke parlor and left for the hotel.
I enjoyed the high definition TV in the hotel. Most of the channels were in Japanese but there were few English channels too.
The next day we went to see Mount Aso, an active volcano. In fact, I was given the two options of Hiroshima Memorial or Mount Aso. For some reason, I selected Mount Aso. The ride to Aso through rural settings was very enchanting. We reached the crater of the volcano around 10 am but the whole carter was covered with mist as it was raining. It was disappointing. I should have selected the Hiroshima tour.
We went to a museum close to Mount Aso and spent some time there. Then we came back passing the huge caldera of the Mount Aso. It is one of the biggest calderas in Japan.
We went to an ancient palace in the evening. We saw some beautiful architecture and carvings in the palace. The palace was surrounded by a moat and guarded against the ninjas yet they were able to penetrate into the palace by walking on water it was said! Modern Japanese don’t believe that. They said that the ninjas must have come under the water by keeping a pipe or something to the noses to breathe.
Then we went to see a beautiful botanical garden. There were beautiful trees, grass, ponds and fish there. It was a nice place but it was not as big as Peradeniya Botanical gardens in Sri Lanka.
In the evening we went shopping. I bought some clothes and souvenirs to take home but every time I selected items either Professor Ozawa or Mr. Horikawa paid the bills. It was nice of them but I felt guilty and didn’t shop anymore.
We had Hakata Lamen for dinner as I wanted to taste it after reading about it on the internet. Internet said that eating Hakata Lamen by the riverside was a nice experience one can have while in Fukuoka. But I couldn’t eat as much as I wanted to due to the effect of a drug I had taken. But my two friends enjoyed the food a lot. As soon as I came to Sri Lanka I changed the drug into some other drug, to enable me eat more.
I stayed in another hotel for the night and left Japan the following morning and it was past midnight when I reached Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka, toward peace keeping and prosperity
(Full Text of My Speech)
Sri Lanka had been fighting a war against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE rebels) for almost three decades that devastated the then peaceful island. In May 2009, the government of Sri Lanka completed a military victory against the LTTE. But the wounds of the war are yet to be healed. Thousands of civilians trapped in the war are yet to be resettled. Ex rebels and child soldiers have to be rehabilitated. Disrupted education of the children needs to be revived. Infrastructure expansions need more investments. Livelihoods of the people have to be restored. Investors need to be encouraged to invest in Sri Lanka. Traumatized minds of the war affected should be treated carefully. More than anything else, the trust between affected nationalities should be addressed. The best tool to do that would be use of Information and Communications Technology with English as a link language. English can be used mainly for the children and the youth while the adults can be taught Sinhalese and Tamil. ICT tools also should be localized to suit the adult group who may find it difficult to learn English. ICTs can improve standards of lives of the citizens in numerous ways irrespective of their geographical location. Learning English can improve communication among the children and the youth of the communities while learning Sinhalese and Tamil can enhance understanding among the adults. Though there are programs to develop Sri Lanka using ICTs and English in existence, they have not yielded desired results due to various reasons. So, there should be a new and practical approach to do this. With more than 10 years of experiences in the field of ICT and English, Horizon Lanka Foundation, Mahawilachchiya has a better approach to develop Sri Lanka using the ICTs and English. Such development programs should not be limited to only war affected areas as the war hampered development in the whole nation hence, the attention should be paid to the country as a whole. All nationalities in the country should benefit from such programs. Otherwise, another insurgence may arise from the discriminated groups of people.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentleman,
Firstly, I wish to sincerely thank the Academic Society for Asian Symbiosis for giving me the opportunity and great honor of delivering a Lecture for 2011 International Symposium.
I must thank Mr. Horikawa for visiting us in Mahawilachchiya, Sri Lanka and introducing me to the Academic Society for Asian Symbiosis.
This is my second visit to this wonderful country, Japan. I was here in November 2008 to participate in Asia 21 Society held in Tokyo. Ever since I visited this beautiful country I am in love with it. Can you guess the reason? The cleanliness of the country is the reason for my love. I was in Tokyo, I visited Mount Fuji and everywhere I saw was the cleanliness of the cities. Hats off for you, for keeping the country this clean. I wish Sri Lanka also were as clean as Japan. Luckily Sri Lanka also has taken very progressive steps to make the country cleaner and tidier starting from Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka.
Well, once I got the invitation from your society I did not have any dilemma on what to choose as a topic for my lecture. My country was afresh after finishing a 30-year-old war and my topic had to be on newly gained peace and what to do with it. So there came the topic, Sri Lanka, toward peace keeping and prosperity. Here I am going to tell you as to how Sri Lanka can be developed by using Information and Communication Technology and English language while making Sri Lanka a safe place to all her nationalities namely Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher.
Sri Lanka, a land like no other
When we promote Sri Lanka in tourism related materials, we use the tagline, “Sri Lanka, a land like no other.” There are sound reasons to use that line. Sri Lanka is a country full of natural beauty. It is an island nation. Around the country we have scenic sunny beaches. Inside the country we have lush vegetation, not to mention the huge ricefields which glitter in sunshine. Towards the central hill country, we see extensive tea estates that are made more attractive with waterfalls and intermittent drizzles. This country also boasts of wildlife parks that are havens to leopards, wild elephants, deer, bears, etc.
Ladies and Gentleman, the history of my country extends over 2500 years.
Situated South East of India as an island, on sea routes that connect the west with east Sri Lanka has its own advantages and disadvantages for her geographical location. Rich resources like the spices, gems, and ivory have always attracted the Western colonists and Sri Lanka was under the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British rule for over four hundred years. But none of those invaders could take away the beautiful smiles of the Sri Lankans. Even today Sri Lankans are very hospitable and have a smile to welcome you wherever you meet them.
Civil war broke out in July 1983 though the dormant signs were shown as far back as 1975. Tamils in Sri Lanka were complaining that they were being discriminated in the areas of economic opportunities, education, etc. Some of the Tamil politicians demanded they need a federal state for themselves so that they could take care of themselves the way they like. Tamil youth were well aware of such demands got together as “freedom fighter groups” and went beyond the demands of the politicians. The youth demanded a separate country in the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka. To let the governments feel their existence they started doing small scale terrorist activities. The government armed forces were able to squash such activities but it was too intolerable when the terrorists ambushed and killed 13 government soldiers in Jaffna, the capital of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka in 1983. Sinhalese started retaliating and thus started the civil war.
Thousands of lives were lost from all nationalities as a result. Young people both from the armed forces and the rebels lost their lives or became handicapped. Property was damaged to a great extent and Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka was attacked with vehicle bombs and suicide bombers many a time by killing people and damaging property. Places like the Central Bank, national airport, and oil refineries were attacked. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE became the only rebel organization in the world to have owned an air force. They bombed Colombo and Anuradhapura, the city I come from with their air force comprised of small aircrafts.
Innocent civilians were killed in hundreds in the villages by raiding them at night with weapons. My village, Mahawilachchiya alone was attacked several times and some villagers were killed. Even when we were studying in the school, sometimes we had to pause lessons till the bombing of the battles ended some days. This continued even after I became a teacher and teaching the students. As a result of the war we, as children, were deprived of fieldtrips to other parts of the country. We could see the other parts of the country by only television. (The television corporation of Sri Lanka is a gift from the Japanese government. Thank you for that.)
Not only helpless villagers, the late president of the country Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa himself was blown up by an LTTE suicide bomber. Scores of other politicians and national figures were also killed by them. They did not spare the life of former Indian Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi either.
I don’t think I should elaborate on the detrimental effects of the war any longer since you yourselves have experienced an even bitter war in 1940s. I watched the movie Hiroshima recently and understood what you have undergone during the World War II.
Aftermath of the Civil War
The 30-year-old curse of the war ended in May 2009 with the crushing of the LTTE and the killing of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran by the government forces. But thousands of civilian lives had been lost with extensive property damage as well. Of 300,000 displaced civilians, the majority has been resettled by now but they need a lot of support to overcome from what they have undergone for three decades. Thousands of people are disabled. They need attention. Farmlands, schools, places of worship, houses have been extensively damaged and they need to be rebuilt. Ex-combatants and child soldiers are being rehabilitated by the government and they need career paths and educational opportunities respectively. The handicapped soldiers and ex- combatants also need attention.
There are programs like The Uthuru Wasanthaya (The North Reawakening Program) that focuses on the Northern Province and The Negenahira Navodaya (The East Reawakening Program) that focuses on the Eastern Province to address the afore said issues. Ministry of Economic Development also embarks on a project called “Re-awakening” focusing on North and East and the districts close to the former warzone.
Importance of English and ICT education
What I believe is that by enhancing opportunities for English and ICT education in war affected Sri Lanka is the answer to the burning issues left with the end of the war. If English is taught to all communities, it would be easy for them to communicate with each other and this will improve ethnic harmony. The young people can get enormous benefits from that. English education also opens avenues for the marginalized communities to get into the job market easily and this will solve their economic problems as well. For example, I had been without a job for 5 years after finishing the school education and I later got a job as an English teacher purely because of the English language proficiency I had gained. Similarly, more and more career paths can be created for the youth with English education.
The other main area is ICT education. If properly educated in ICT the youth and adults can easily communicate with their near and dear ones abroad, the Diaspora and seek their help to develop the affected villages. They can also communicate with the other communities with law cost ICT solutions and get to know more people. Opening career opportunities in ICT related job market will be immense. Particularly the booming Business Process Outsourcing industry will help the youth who are ICT savvy.
Why Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya
To teach ICT and English to the rural masses there should be a good and effective model. This is where Horizon Lanka Foundation in Mahawilachchiya comes in. Horizon Lanka has more than 12 years of experiences in teaching ICT and English effectively to the rural children and youth in Mahawilachchiya. More than 500 children and youth benefitted from the project and scores of youth are now employed in the ICT industry and English education field.
Before going further let us see how Horizon Lanka evolved over the years.
Horizon Lanka – Phase I (1998-2005)
While I was teaching English at Saliyamala Public School in Mahawilachchiya, I started a handwritten journal with the students called Horizon Journal in 1998. Photocopied copies of this journal were mailed to several Government Institutions, Embassies, etc and the first PC (a 486 model used PC) for the school was donated by the US Embassy in 1999 along with an electric typewriter and a dot-matrix printer. Due to professional jealousy of some of the staff members we had to move out of public school in October 1999. We had to leave the computer and the other equipment in the public school and had to operate without a computer again. I kept teaching the students English under a tree in my garden. The news about our plight of losing the computer appeared in an international news site. This helped us to meet a Sri Lankan couple, Mr. Donald Gaminitillake and Mrs. Bhadra Gaminitillake who lived in Japan. They donated us a used Pentium computer and a new dot-matrix printer. Mr. Gaminitillake also helped me to design a website for Horizon and we could launch the website in 2001. Through this website we could raise funds to build a small computer lab in our garden. The lab was able to be declared open by April 2004 with the support of the local donors and the Diaspora. Another group of donors helped us to build a tower to get Internet access for Horizon computer lab. Horizon Lanka got Internet access by May 2004 through LankaCom, an Internet Service Provider in Colombo. Thus Mahawilachchiya became the first rural village in Sri Lanka to be connected to the Internet 24/7. Since there was no telephone access to the village, on my request Dialog, one of the mobile telephone companies in Sri Lanka provided mobile access with a 100-meter radius around our internet tower. In the same year Horizon got a grant of 1 million Sri Lankan rupees to launch e-village project from the Information and Communication Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka. 5 new computers under this budget reached Horizon by December 2004. Miss Marissa Charles, the first foreign volunteer to teach English came to Horizon in December 2004. Horizon Lanka students made a presentation in front of the then Prime Minister Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa (The present President) at the e-Society Project Meeting which was organized by the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) in 2005. Horizon Lanka received a grant of 4 million rupees to buy IT and office equipment and furniture from GenevaGlobal and USAID in 2005. Horizon Lanka students also made a presentation with Dr. Craig Barret, the Chairman of Intel in December 2005.
Horizon Lanka – Phase II (2006-2010)
Horizon Lanka received a bigger building & a garden in 2006 February from a donor in England. Horizon Lanka launched Sri Lanka’s first Mesh Internet Community Network in Mahawilachchiya in 2006. I was able to get Mahawilachchiya covered by a mobile telephone network by requesting Dialog Telekom to cover the village with their network. Horizon Lanka launched Sri Lanka’s first rural Business Process Outsourcing venture in Mahawilachchiya in 2007. Ministry of Education selected Horizon Lanka’s e-Village project as the model to replicate throughout Sri Lanka in 2007. Horizon Lanka launched the Phase II of Mesh Internet Project in Mahawilachchiya in 2009. We got a volunteer from Japan, Mr. Yoshihiro Uemura who volunteered in Horizon Lanka in 2010 along with some more volunteers from other countries.
During this period, I had to operate Horizon Lanka away from the village as I had to relocate myself in Colombo. During this period, though we had some remarkable achievements as mentioned above, the project suffered heavy losses as the onsite managers we had appointed failed to carry out their duties properly. Number of students attended the English and IT classes dropped significantly and the resources of the institute were wasted without being properly maintained. This affected the sustainability of the institution as well.
Horizon Lanka – Phase III (2011-Beyond)
In 2011, we have planned to work with a national level project. According to that Horizon Lanka will be transplanted in a new location and new equipment will be provided. Horizon Lanka model will be initially replicated in 3 other locations including the North and the East of the country which were affected by 30-year-old war. There will be more venues for the replication of the project and the funds will be provided by the central government. Professionals’ contribution will be sought in planning and implementation of these stages. Project will be replicated in more rural locations with the support of the local and foreign donors, government, NGOs and INGOs. Depending on the financial help the project gets the replication will spread to more and more war affected villages.
This is where you can help us. Horizon Lanka needs your support to make itself a strong organization financially. We cannot simply make the project sustainable by putting the full cost of expenses of the village children and youth. They cannot afford to pay the full cost. Since we are to become the pivotal centre of the program Horizon Lanka needs to be self sustainable. At the moment we have 1.5 million LKR debts to repay. We need money to pay the staff and maintain the project. We do need your help there. You can also send Japanese volunteers to teach ICT and English to Sri Lanka.
I am aware that you all had a hard time with the recent earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that devastated this beautiful country. You have not recovered fully yet. And you must be struggling with it even now. (What Sri Lanka could do was, as usual, sending some tea to Japan after tsunami. This is what we mainly donate whenever another country is facing similar challenges.) I wish you recover soon from the tsunami disaster. Even if you cannot help Horizon Lanka at this moment I have no hard feelings. Japan has helped Sri Lanka many a time in the past. And we hope she will continue to help us in future too.
I wish to learn how Japan overcame the detrimental effects of the Second World War. I wish to learn how Japan is overcoming 2011 tsunami. Those lessons will help me shape up my approach to overcome the ill effects of war in Sri Lanka.
Horizon Lanka’s practical approach of teaching ICT and English to the rural masses can be easily replicated anywhere in Sri Lanka if the financial needs are taken care of. Horizon Lanka has been able to produce a set of brilliant youth who are equipped with both English and ICT proficiency who are employed in various places now. The same approach can be followed while replicating the project elsewhere. The rest of the world can help us by providing funds and sending volunteers.
Sri Lanka is recovering after the long fought war. Any peace dividends should reach all walks of life irrespective of their race, , caste or creed. Otherwise, another insurgence may arise from the discriminated groups of people. Do we want to see that? I hope not.