Mahavilachchiya needs you!

Several years ago, I got the opportunity to visit a small foundation in the middle of the jungle in Mahavilachchiya that made a strong impression on me and my friends in the LKLUG. We were there to teach kids computers and introduce them to the wealth of free and open source software. As an active community, we have been to many advocacy and training sessions, but this one was quite unlike any other.

There was an element of danger going into a “border village” where the threat of terrorist attacks were ever imminent and the kids lived in fear. Despite the warnings we received from the elders, it was clear to all of us that this had to be done. And to this day, the only regret has been that we have not been able to do more.

What we found in Mahavillachchiya was the most hopeful thing I’ve ever seen in the most hopeless of times under the worst circumstances. It was truly an oasis and a budding fertile ground for changing the lives of an entire generation in the region. A generation that had been ravaged by war and poverty and yet retained the innocence and hope to smile through the ordeal.

Most of what we do in our lives are not important. The petty goals we strive to achieve, the victories that we expect to provide us with fulfillment in life, when examined more closely, pale in comparison to the selfless work performed by remarkable people to bring an entire generation out of a vicious cycle. Here’s a chance for you to do something truly worthwhile that will affect the lives of many.

Mahavilachchiya and Horizon Lanka Foundation need your help. It needs to raise 1 million Rupees by the end of the year to meet its financial obligations and to continue its good work. The equivalent of 9,000 USD, this is the first step in helping the foundation continue to be the positive change agent to the hundreds of rural kids in Sri Lanka.

If you would like to help with this initiative, please contact Nandasiri Wanninayaka (wanni@horizonlanka.net) to see how you can help. Wanni is the founder of this initiative and is a truly inspirational character.

You can also contribute to HLF initiatives on GlobalGiving.org.

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Mahavilachchiya – day two

Yesterday was the second day of the FOSS-ed on Wheels at Mahavilachchiya.

The kids were some of the brightest I’ve met and they pick things up in a flash. The night before, I did a programming primer to a group of lads and lasses, 18 years old on average. The girls outnumbered the guys by a scary margin, approximately 10 girls and 2 guys. References to Ada Lovelace and Grace Mary Hopper were made in the hope of striking an inspiration. We can begin to hope for better gender distribution in the coming years for IT.

Woke up in the morning feeling a little stiff, but a bit of photographing around the perimeter did the trick. I brought T’s D50 with me, along with the 10x zoom lens and the array of filters, and that’s always fun to play around with.

Had a session with the younger kids in the afternoon and my voice kept getting drowned by the patter of rain on the roof. Like a cornered prey, I decided to do the rest of the talk in the middle of the room surrounded by the kids. That was an experience. We talked about how computers spoke to each other. This was the first time I got in front of such a young crowd and it was an enlightening experience.

While wrapping up, seven (or eight) year old Asela came over to shake my hand and say goodbye. That was probably the hightlight of the show, and made everything worth it.

This FOSS-ed has been a unique experience for me, and very different from the other FOSS-eds I’ve been involved with. I think it’s a good trend that FOSS is moving away from Colombo to places where it really matter. The future looks bright.

Also, I must commend the effort of Wanni which I think is phenomenally successful. We need more like him to do what he has done in other places with the same level of selflessness and dedication. For those who might not know, Nandasiri Wanninayaka (aka Wanni) is the founder of the Horizon Lanka Foundation.

Update: Some photographs from the event can be found here and here.

From Mahavilachchiya, with love

I’m at Mahavilachchiya right now, at the Horizon Lanka Foundation, with the FOSS-ed on Wheels troupe. So far the experience has been breathtaking.

Yesterday, we were at the Kekirawa Central College where we talked to a group of individuals eager to learn about FOSS. This group was very diverse, from teachers to school students, equally eager to try new tricks. I spoke to a group of students during a small break and since then I’ve been repeatedly telling everyone how great those kids were. One in particular, was an extremely enthusiastic lad and I kept wishing I could do more to help these kids.

Horizon Lanka Foundation is running a school here, in a very organized fashion. One of the first things we saw when we entered the premises was a large group of students organized neatly in ranks, all wearing yellow uniforms and looking very subdued. I was able to mingle easily with the students in my matching yellow t-shirt. Nobody believed my exclaims of coincidence.