A guide to byte – A LAcNet project brings the world to remote Lankan classrooms


This appeared in the Sunday Times Plus Section on September 10, 2000. By this time I was the computer instructor of this project launched by LAcNet.

By Kesara Ratnatunga (10th September 2000)

The computer screen was their window to the rest of the world and they were having a field day. Exploring with wide-eyed wonder what lay beyond their horizons, were the grade seven and eight students of Nivaththaka Chethiya Maha Vidyalaya, Anuradhapura, the first beneficiaries of the Lanka Academic Network’s (LAcNet) ‘Computers for Sri Lankan Schools’ project.

LAcNet, a virtual network of Sri Lankan academic professionals living here and abroad, implemented and funded this pilot project by which a computer lab with five computers as well as Internet facilities was set up at the school. The objective is “to provide an opportunity for rural children to gain competency in computer and Internet, proficiency that will enhance and broaden their academic and entrepreneur skills.”

“Nivaththaka Chethiya was selected because its principal and teachers were very keen and also because a tremendous amount of support was given by Sena Gonapinuwala, a businessman of the area,” says LAcNet’s vice-president Chulie de Silva who is also the coordinator for this project.

Since the lab became functional in January this year, the students of all classes have had the opportunity to become familiar with the computers and the Internet.

“We were scared at first that we might break the computers,” said one eighth grade student who was busily typing out an essay with a group of his friends, “but now we are quite comfortable with them,” said all of them grinning from ear to ear.

There are no periods specially dedicated to computer education due to administrative problems. However, the computers are used to supplement the other subjects such as science and environmental studies. Many of the teaching sessions are conducted with the kids seated on the floor around the teacher who uses electronic encyclopedias such as Encarta to teach them.

The students themselves get hands-on time on the PCs and are already capable of using word processors and graphics software with ease – very encouraging progress considering many of them had never seen or touched a computer before. The idea seems to be to expose the children to the technology and make it part and parcel of their thinking rather than teaching computers as a science. “I like to give the smaller children a chance because they are very keen and learn fast,” says Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka, an English teacher cum computer instructor at the school, who has worked tirelessly to make this project a success.

“Using the computers has helped the students improve their English as well,” says the Principal, Mr. Piyasena Ratnamalala.

The students have also been exposed to the Internet and email, which they have been using under the guidance of Mr. Wanninayaka. They have even made friends via email, with their contemporaries in Australia. Nuwan Prasad Wanninayaka, a year 13 student having taught himself by reading books on web programming, has designed the school webpage as his Advanced level project. He says that the school having received these computers was indeed a great help and incentive for him to learn. It has inspired him to go into an Information Technology related career.

Having access to computers seems to have sparked an interest in many of the younger students as well, who are very keen to pursue computer studies outside school. Many of them troop to school an hour early as well as during the holidays, to spend some extra time playing around with the computers. The students’ enthusiasm is further highlighted by the fact that they have pooled and bought several CD-ROMs for the school.

“Parents are also very keen that their children should learn how to use computers,” says Mr. Ratnamalala.”They even accompany their children when they come during the holidays.” An enthusiasm no doubt fueled by the knowledge that in this day and age, computer literacy is as vital as being able to read.

This venture owes much of its success to the commitment of Mr. Wanninayaka who spares no effort in facilitating the children’s learning. He has big plans for the computer lab and the students, including a magazine to be published by the students. “We need more computers, even old ones,” says Mr. Wanninayaka citing the primary problem they face. Niwaththaka Chethiya MV has around 4000 students on its roll, and many of the classes which use the lab comprise around 70 students making both teaching and learning on just five computers very difficult.


The paintings of two of the school’s students, Nadeeka Wijesingha and Anusha Nilminimala Ariyarathna which were taken abroad by Mr. Wanninayaka have been offered to be sold in the U.S. Any earnings from their sale would be used to buy PCs for the school. Everybody at Nivaththaka Chethiya anxiously awaits a favourable response from those in the United States who have volunteered to sell the paintings for them.

“We would be more than happy to do more paintings,” say Nadeeka and Anusha, anxious to do their part for the school.

In Sri Lanka, Information Technology is restricted to a select urban community. Considering that much of the population reside in rural areas it seems grossly unfair that this should be the case. LAcNet’s project and any others to be initiated in the future by government or non-government organizations would be a key in linking these areas to the modern world. They will also have a major positive impact on the way future Sri Lankan generations think, the standard of their education and their global awareness. However, it is important that all attempts are made to ensure every child – regardless of economic standing or geographic location – gets this opportunity.

The enthusiasm of the staff and most of all of the students has been remarkable. LAcNet’s pilot project aimed at “creating a computer savvy student population in a rural school” seems to be in good hands and well on its way to achieving its goal. Hopefully it will lead to more people recognising the importance of educating children in Information Technology and coming forward to help and initiate forward-looking projects such as this. If the progress of the bright-eyed students of Nivaththaka Chethiya Maha Vidyalaya is anything to go by, the potential for the future is heartening indeed

You can read the original article at http://www.sundaytimes.lk/000910/plusm.html

Back to Teaching English

It was after a few months that I got back to teaching English. On a request of a friend, I started an English tuition class for primary kids in Colombo.  The last time I did a tuition class was last year in Anuradhapura for three OL students and 2 of them got A passes while the other who did less homework secured a B pass.

I was not that interested in teaching primary kids earlier but yesterday, it was a different story. 9 boys and a girl had got together for the class and they had come with their parents amidst the torrential rains. First I talked to the parents for a few minutes and asked if the parents need just to increase the marks at the term tests of the students or me to provide a holistic English education that enable the students to speak, write, read and listen to English. If they chose the latter, it will take some time and the parents will have to wait for few months to see results. Parents preferred the second option. I said I would be using computers and internet a lot as teaching aid, and other reading, listening, speaking and writing material will be prescribed later. Parents and the kids equally liked the idea of computers being used. All children except one had computers at home and some had internet too.

Then started the class. I went to the class without much preparation as I had no idea about the English standards of the children. I insisted that the whole class will be done in English and no Sinhala explanations will be given. Students too will have to express themselves in English. It became successful from the very beginning.

We started with self-introductions and informal talks and I felt that the students’ English knowledge was pretty impressive. With this rate, students will be able to speak English in few months’ time and other skills also can be developed faster than I anticipated. I can download the necessary material from the internet and go to few bookshops and DVD shops as well. Kids these days need more technology to learn and we have to make the classroom an exciting place for them. Though the government has provided new technology and teacher training to the public school system, the instances of them being used is scarce due to various reasons. This is why a need has been created for private tutoring by adding an additional burden to parents’ pockets.

Janadhi was a very energetic and talkative girl who understood almost everything I said and responded quicker than others. She had a bigger vocabulary than the others and was a quick learner too. Anupama, a boy with an innocent look was the next best in responding and he was not shy to sing and talk. Sachithra was a very good cartoonist and drew a picture of Spiderman exactly like the original. The pint-sized Yuhan, though a Montessori student, was very active and knew words than some of the other students did. Ravindu was a very quiet student and did not answer a single question I asked. But I didn’t pressurize him at all and let him build his own confidence slowly. In few minutes he started responding slowly and there was applause from the other students for the every answer he gave. In no time, his shyness vanished and he began to respond like the other kids. Visal was a quieter student too, maybe due to lack of exposure and confidence, but will follow others very soon.

From the next week onwards, we will video some lessons of the class and let the students see how they perform by playing the video for them. This would help them to avoid mistakes and build up their confidence levels. This is something I tested at Horizon Lanka successfully.

Some of the parents stayed in the classroom till it was over as the rains prevented them leaving the classroom. According to my friend, the parents are satisfied with the class and they too needed an English class for adults. This is something I have to take time and decide.

My Trip to Fukuoka, Japan in 2011

At Kyushu University

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

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.


Change of Lifestyle – from Anuradhapura to Colombo

I reached Colombo by bike on Sunday as I had to start work in my new workplace from Monday onwards. The place I got to stay at in Colombo is very satisfying for me. The house is owned by my friend Ranjith. House has ample space and he offered me a room and all the ‘five-star’ facilities he has got. I have here an IPTV with a host of foreign and local channels, high-speed ADSL Internet connection with Wi-Fi, a BodyTrainer exercise machine, and, above all, a washing machine to ease my work. Moreover, I get tasty meals here. I never imagined I would get all these when I left Anuradhapura.

My workplace is exciting. I have to work under a young man who is around 15 years younger to me. He is very caring (and demanding too.) Other colleagues are also young and energetic. I have to act as a young man here. This is not a place for old men.

I get a very good lunch at the workplace for a mere 100 LKR. Canteen is as clean as grandma’s kitchen. It’s in the 8th floor of the building and I ensure I climb up and down through the steps by avoiding the lift to get more exercise. (I also walk around 5km a day to get to bus and back home too.) Traveling standing in the bus gives me additional exercise but I don’t enjoy it. To forget the pain, I listen to some good music over the earphones while standing in the bus. The moment I get a seat I start reading a book. These days I am reading ‘The Facebook Effect.’ (I will write a blog post about it once I finish reading the book.)

These are the hottest days of Colombo and feel very uncomfortable while outside. But I feel happy when I see most of the roads are being renovated by the government. Colombo will be a nice city before long if the developments continue in this manner.

Abhi, my son has had a sporting event today at the Montessori but I missed it. This is the only complain about the job. I will miss the family’s important events. But to feed the family and to do something for the motherland, one has to work. That is the compromise one has to come.

A Narrow Escape from a Passing Train

I was looking for William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice book for the last two weeks to discuss it with a teacher of mine as both of us wanted to make use of our spare time. I looked with my friends and none had a copy. A short while ago I called Lake House bookshop in Anuradhapura and they said there is one copy left and I thought of hurrying up and buying it. I took the bike and drove fast. I did not remember today is Saturday (trains from Anuradhapura to Mihintale run only during weekends) and was speeding up. Suddenly I heard a horn of a train and the train was very close. I was in a dilemma whether to go ahead or stop the bike as my speed didn’t allow me to hit the brakes. (There wasn’t a rail gate in this crossing and there was only a sign warning that trains could come and be causes.) Instantly I decided to hit the brakes and the bike stopped and it nearly hit the train. The driver of the train was furious and so was another biker on the other side of the road. He said he expected worse and I too think if not for the timely brakes, it would have been the curtains for me.

Phalluses from Mahawilachchiya

This happened some 15 years ago. The government sent a bulldozer to clear and flatten the playground (Deepthi Grounds) in Mahawilachchiya. I was not at the ground when this happened. This is what had happened. While flattening the ground, some clay artifacts had been unearthed by the bulldozer unexpectedly. The children and the youth gathered there had taken them home and nobody knew what they exactly were.

I too saw some of them and checked them myself. They looked like images of humans. Some of them were with breasts and some were without breasts so that we thought that the items were images of men and women. I was worried that these items were being wasted and they might have an archeological value. So, I told the youth that we should inform the authorities and they would take necessary actions to preserve the items. The youth opposed it saying that if they found any archeological value of the items they will take the ground under them and start excavating and eventually the youth would lose the ground to play. This was fair argument but I thought that I might be neglecting a national duty by not informing the government. So, in secret, I took one of the artifacts to the Department of Archeology in Anuradhapura. The officer in charge thanked me for bringing the item and he checked it and smiled. According to him it was a phallus the ancient women used to worship in order to conceive children. Only after he told me that I saw the similarity of the item with a phallus. The face of the image had been made on the head of the phallus and the bust of the image was on the rest of the phallus. They did not have legs. The officer explained me that the images of men were offered to god by  those who expected sons and the others that looked like women were offered to ask for daughters from god. He further said that these artifacts belonged to an era before the Buddha was born and they had been found from some other locations as well. To prove it he asked a junior officer to bring a certain item. There he was carrying a huge phallus that was so heavy and big he could hardly carry it.

Two Months in Doha, Qatar

In Doha, Qatar (2004)

In 2004 March, I went to Qatar for a teaching job at an international school (Stafford Sri Lankan School Doha) with the help of a very good friend and also the biggest donor of the Horizon Lanka Foundation, Mr. Kumara Badhuge who was working there.

I arrived in Doha International Airport during the day and my friend took me to the school and the formalities were done there. He had already arranged me a room in the school premises for me to stay and bought all the necessary items from a mobile phone to a cassette recorder to a TV to a refrigerator. He made me very comfortable in a strange land.

The school had hired a Sri Lankan driver to drive the school bus. It was the only vehicle the school possessed and we had to take the bus if we had to get something done from the city, Doha. The school was a little away from the main city.

The first night, we had to take our dinner outside. The driver took me to a place in the city and I was not familiar with the city and its people. All I had heard about the Middle East was that the Arabs are ruthless and arrogant one should be very careful with them. The driver parked the bus in some place where there were few cars parked. He simply disappeared into the darkness to bring dinner for us. I didn’t have the driver’s mobile number with me and I was waiting for a long time still the driver didn’t come. In the mean time one of the car owners came to take his car out of the park and our bus was blocking it and car had no other way to get out. Two bulky-looking Qatari men got down from the car and knocked on the door of the bus. I was scared and looked for the driver but he was not to be seen yet. The only option I had was to pretend asleep in the bus. The two men saw me and banged on the door and shouted something in their language. I couldn’t pretend asleep anymore and I opened the door. The two men were very angry and shouted at me. I explained in English that the driver went somewhere and I was waiting for him. Then they asked me to look for him. I didn’t know where the driver went. So, I went to a place that looked like a hotel and entered in. Alas! It was not a hotel; it was a place where the Qatari men were smoking with hookahs (a hookah parlor.) There were around 20 people smoking the hookahs and the smell that came from the smoke was unbearable to me. It must be a place where they smoke illegal substance, I don’t know. The moment they saw me they shouted in their language and I just managed to get out of the parlor before they welcomed me in the Qatari style.

I sheepishly tip toed towards the bus and the two men were still there. I covered myself to a date tree and was waiting for the driver to come. After around 20 minutes the driver came and I ran to the bus and asked the driver to drive fast. The two men again shouted at the bus and I’m sure they were using the filthy Arabic . The whole episode reminded me the cartoon series ‘Adventures of Tin Tin’ where he encounter Arabs.

I never expected to see rain in the desert but the very night I came to Qatar it rained. It was a nice experience to have. The next morning I still saw the drizzle. I felt I am the luckiest man to enter this desert country with a rain welcoming me.

There were only primary section in the school and it was fun to teach the kids. The children came from Sri Lankan, Indian, Pakistan, Philippines, etc. families and all the teaching was done in English. The parents were either professionals or businessmen. My job was to teach the kids computers in the small computer lab we had. The staff consisted of only Sri Lankan teachers. Staff was very friendly.

In the pre-school section there was a Qatari boy who didn’t want to spend a minute without his mother. The moment his mother left the school the boy started crying. He was unmanageable to any of the staff members but I could make him happy and he became very friendly towards me and was behind me throughout the day. He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Arabic and we developed our own language to communicate.

An interesting character I met in Doha was Mr. Kumudu from Sri Lanka who was a manager of Sofitel Hotel in Doha. He was the Founding Chairman of the school and very helpful to it. He came to coach cricket to the boys. He had exceptional organizing abilities and worked with the Sri Lankan community very closely. In fact, he was more or less “the unofficial ambassador for Sri Lanka in Qatar.”

One day I taught the kids to keep the computer lab clean and tidy and asked them to collect the litter and put them into the dust bin. They didn’t like the idea and the next day the principal, a Sri Lankan lady, told me that two girls had complained to her saying that they come to school to learn and not to collect the dirt. I got the message as to how it goes over here and when the same team of students came to the computer lesson next day, I collected the dirt myself and one of those girls came to me and said, “Sorry” and helped me collecting litter. The whole class got together and made the class clean and tidy.

The day we took the kids to swimming lessons was the most exciting day. Kids were exhilarated to see the water in the pool and were uncontrollable. We spent hours in the water and came back.

Another trip was done to see the desert and it was a new experience to me. We went to a small community in the desert and I didn’t know whether it was created for tourist attraction or actually people lived there. There were tents and Qatari people were drinking tea inside them. We too could enter into the tents and drink tea. We also rode on camel back and it was not a pleasant experience at all as the camels were bad smelling animals.

I went to see a computer exhibition in Doha one day and had the opportunity of meeting Ajay Puri, an Indian kid who had passed some Microsoft exams, the youngest to do so in the world by then.

One day the bus caught up a sand storm and it wasn’t a nice experience at all. Though it rained the first night I came to Qatar the hot days followed up and it was unbearably hot to be outside the buildings. I bought enough cucumbers and ice-cream from super markets to eat.

We became very active during the festival the school organized with the Sri Lankan community in Qatar to celebrate the Sri Lankan New Year and it was a success.

To be honest, I couldn’t do much for the school as I had to return to Sri Lanka within less than two months due to other commitments and my only accomplishment during the time in the school was being able to create a nice brochure for the school.

During my time in Qatar I tried meals from many places including Sri Lankan restaurants and decided to stick to a small Nepali restaurant because Nepali food tasted more Sri Lankan than in the Sri Lankan restaurants.

The Barber and the Government Servant

I usually go to the same barber. The main reason for that is he trims my eyebrows as well without forgetting in addition to the mustache. I want to eyebrows also trimmed as they grow faster and fall on my eyes and it is very uncomfortable. The other barbers do it only if I ask them to and don’t do it as good as this barber does. Not only that, he also trims the hair inside the nostrils.

My barber is a teen-looking guy but 27 years old, I knew only today. While he was cutting my hair I fell into a little chat with him as there was nobody else to hear us. I asked if he is absent on Sundays and he said he usually comes everyday and rarely gets absent if he has something very important. He gets half a day break on full moon poya days. He is going to start attending a hairdressing class from next month as he thinks he should get updated with latest fashions in the field. I felt pity for him as he has to spend on this at a time he was already paying 6,000 LKR for the monthly rent of the upstairs shop where he has the saloon. Besides he is married and has a one and a half month old daughter too. Out of pity, I asked him if he were getting a decent income. His answer was, “I get between 1000 LKR and 2000 LKR per day. On a good day, I exceed 2000 also. I’m getting a better income than a government servant does.”

In Good Company

In Good Company movie poster

In Good Company is a 2004 American comedy movie written and directed by Paul Weitz. The film stars Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Scarlett Johansson.

Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) is an experienced advertisement sales executive at Sports America, a famous sports magazine. Another company takes over the magazine and many in the staff face being laid off under the new management. Dan is demoted and placed under supervisor Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), who is half his age. In addition to this embarrassment, Dan’s wife (Marg Helgenberger) is discovered to be pregnant with their third child. This is an unplanned pregnancy and both their daughters are teenagers.

One by one, the staff of the magazine gets laid off and Dan finds himself under threat of losing job. But suddenly Carter becomes friendlier with him and Dan doesn’t know that is due to Carter’s romantic involvement with his daughter, Alex (Scarlet Johnson.) When he finds out that the daughter is sleeping with Carter, Dan punches him in the face at a restaurant in front of the onlookers.

In Good Company would be a good movie for those who in the Management Studies as well since it talks about corporate takeovers, administration issues, marketing, etc. as well.

In the 40’s Club, from Today … … …

I became 40 today. I don’t know whether to be sad or happy. I’m not in the habit of celebrating birthdays. In the 40’s one is expected to act with more responsibility and maturity. I did the stupidest things in my life in the 30’s than in the teen ages or 20’s. Most challenging years came in 30’s and the way I confronted them was not that favorable. I paid the price for it. Hope 40’s will bring me sanity. J

I never felt I was nearing 40. I felt like I was a teenager all these years. I realized I am aging only when a young medical student called me ‘Thaththey’ (father) last week at Anuradhapura hospital. I came home and looked at myself in the mirror. I saw the graying hair and beard and wrinkles around the eyes more than I saw earlier. I have to accept the fact that I am aging now. Still I will be young at heart. I wish if there was someone to take a good photograph of me today. But no one is here to do a decent job.

When looking back, I don’t regret. I have done what I could during the hardest times and have been able to deliver. There have been unproductive years as well but it is during those years that one gets a chance to reflect and plan the rest of the life.

40th Birthday Quotations.

Life begins at 40 – but so do fallen arches, rheumatism, faulty eyesight, and the tendency to tell a story to the same person, three or four times.

~ Anonymous

At twenty years of age, the will reigns; at thirty, the wit; and at forty, the judgment.
~ Benjamin Franklin

Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.
~ Victor Hugo

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
~ Abraham Lincoln

If life really begins on your 40th birthday, it’s because that’s when women finally get it.
The guts to take back their lives.
~ Laura Randolph

At the age of twenty, we don’t care what the world thinks of us; at thirty, we worry about what it is thinking of us; at forty, we discover that it wasn’t thinking of us at all.
~ Anonymous