Rakitha Malewana is our Founder at ideanerd, Sri Lankan inventor, scientist, scientific researcher and youth activist. He works primarily in Medical and Molecular Biology research. Rakitha is known for his award-winning work on developing successful therapies for HIV/AIDS, Leukemia and Dengue, which he performed as a high school student.He inspired to work on behalf of the rights of HIV/AIDS positive individuals. Rakitha does his activities with the collaboration of National STD/AIDS Control Programme Sri Lanka, UNAIDS Sri Lanka and some other grassroots initiatives.
HERE IS MY STORY OF SUCCESS,
The youth of the present society have tremendous enthusiasm, energy and optimism. They being the change to change the whole world have become the foremost duty as they are the dream, a form of chemical madness. As a spiritual youth, my dream is to give a hope for those incurable. My sole intention is to erase the fear of living and to create a world enriched with happiness.
I’m Rakitha Malewana, a young scientist who wants to change the world. It was in the year 2010 that I moved into the field of medical research. Until the year of 2010 it was a pathetic situation that even though the high school students were interested in carrying out scientific or medical researches, they were not motivated in creating a culture of attempting to medical research in Sri Lanka. With my first research, I’m proud to mention that I was able to lay the foundation to a culture of medical research in my country. I feel that it is one of the main contributions that we, as the youth could favour towards scientific or medical research in which the country would be benefited at last.
The research titled “An effective drug candidate for dengue fever” which was carried out at the Medical Research Institute was a positive outcome which uprooted from forming the medical research culture for high school students in Sri Lanka. By presenting this research I was able to title as the national winner at Sri Lanka Science and Engineering Fair (SLSEF) 2013 out of more than 1500 competitors and was qualified to represent Sri Lanka at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2013 which is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition that provides an annual forum for more than 1,600 high school students from 70 countries, regions, and territories to showcase their independent research in which I was able to become one of the grand finalists. It was the first time in Sri Lankan history, a student got qualified with a medical research for the above competition.
The most crucial challenge which I faced was the absence of a medical research culture for non-degree holders especially for school students. What inculcated in me was, if to strive hard towards and to lay an own platform in this field, first I should overcome this challenge on behalf of all the other students who are willing to contribute towards the betterment of this field.
As young researchers, all of our research should have a scientific base. With this in my mind I carried out all my researches in the standard, professional and scientific way pertaining to the international standards which was quite a hard task since we still are blossoms to the field who lack knowledge and experiences to be stable. To my point of view I feel all the other students who have an interest in attempting to research must have stepped back as the obstacles to be faced in achieving their target were not easy challenges. But since I had a strong determination I laid the base for a new culture in medical research which in turn was the pillar of strength in gaining all my up to date achievements.
My next challenge was to deal with the research grant which was quite high in my respective field, because the cost for the reagents, equipment and machines are considerably high. I am happy to say that I was able to gain all the research grants individually for my researches as I followed the professional way.
Since I was considerate for a vast scope in my researches I dealt with animal models including human subjects. For this I had to obtain the ethical approval according to the standard guidelines. Overcoming this hurdle I was able to gain the ethical approvals for all my researches and it was recorded in Sri Lankan history as the first school student to receive the ethical clearances from Ministry of Health Sri Lanka.
It is a difficult task to conduct a research with the knowledge that we obtain from the school. So I had to attain more knowledge to achieve my target which with the time I acquired it. The strong aim I had to acquire my targets was the key to overcome the barriers and face challenges.
Meantime, I knew there are thousands of school children who want to investigate new ideas, invent new works and break the boundaries toward their intellectual curiosity. But unfortunately, in that time there were no proper helping hand for those kids to come up with their brilliant ideas. In such situation, my soul intention was to help children like me to establish a research and innovation culture and do well for their families.
With this intention, in 2012 I found and formed a community based organization named “ideanerd Sri Lanka (ideanerd SL)” and the main focus of this initiative is to enhance the innovative thinking and creativity among the school children in Sri Lanka and to establish a sustainable and viable scientific research and innovation/invention culture for a greater benefit of the country.
The competition for the local higher education is towering and because of that students are not involving for any extra-curricular activity. They are reluctant to innovate or solve the problems that the country is facing. In such situations, ideanerd strongly admire that, adopting innovation in education can help in building creativity and better abilities in order to solve problems. The ideanerd SL initiative for research and innovation in science has been nurturing the real spirit of innovation among school students in Sri Lanka since 2012 and beyond.
By developing the interest and knowledge students have in carrying researches we are hoping to select students for the research competitions and offer great research projects to the world. These competitions are open for every student and students of lower grades can also get a basic idea about what a research really is and gain experience of conducting researches. Through this way we can emphasize the importance of research in a more attractive way and reach the students.
Moreover, my representation in international competitions made me aware that the high school students worldwide are so inquisitive on conducting researches out of frame. This was the core which motivated me to continue my research career to an unlimited scope. As a result this led me for my second research, “Novel therapeutic drug candidate for Leukemia”. This research was honored by the Minister of Health as one of the best medical Researches of the year 2013. This research was also selected as the national winner at SLSEF and represented it at Intel ISEF 2014 held in Los Angeles, USA. The same project at its development stage was able to secure the Gold Medal at International Environment Sustainability Olympiad held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and a Bronze Medal at International Science Projects Olympiad held in Jakarta, Indonesia.
I have been working with HIV and AIDS based community organizations namely Lanka Plus, Hope and UNAIDS Sri Lanka. Working in the grassroot level and dealing with the people who are recognized as unwanted to society, laid the foundation and inspired me to work on behalf of the rights of HIV/AIDS positive individuals. Then I started my activism as a youth activist with special interest on advocacy against unequal education opportunities, health inequality, and in the field of sexual and reproductive health.
Currently, I try to make a positive impact on the health of children and adolescents by conducting school health programs in various schools in Sri Lanka. At the same time, we are delivering sessions about HIV/AIDS, associated risk factors, prevention and safety procedures in which I cleared the prevalent misconception about sexually transmitted infections.
Meantime, I was able to establish a good name in the local community because of my international achievements. People accepted me due to my change making effort on medical research history in Sri Lanka. They respected me for my achievements which I have gained in a young age. So, I used that attraction to conduct advocacy on high taboo subjects such as SRH and HIV/AIDS. Soon after when I realized that they keep their faith on me, I started counseling sessions for HIV affected and risk populations. Normally, HIV positive individuals tend to share their stories, uncomfortable situations they’re facing and stressfulness to another positive person. They believe that a person who is not in the same condition cannot feel their situation. But in my case they believe that I have formidable knowledge on medical treatments, because I gained much national and international recognition in a very young age. So they keep their superstitious faith on me and sharing their life stories.
Sometimes, it’s really emotional to hear their stories. People do mistakes, all of us do mistakes! But because of their unfortunate or bad time, they get infected. But why only selected possession? Why it doesn’t infect all who make mistakes? Probably because of their fortunate. Is that fair enough, those who make mistakes but non-infected people do blame for those who are infected? Those points are always running in my mind when I talk with a positive individual. They are living with a huge self-suffering throughout their life. Talking with them and seeing a positive feedback gives me a huge pleasure. Even it’s impossible for me to convert into words.
In 2013, I put my effort to conduct for a large scale medical research. The main reason to conduct this research was my field experience on working with HIV positive individuals. Actually it was the turning point of my research carrier. As a result of long literature and scientific studies and the pre-practical view, I proposed my research with the thought of stabilizing a “Hope for those incurable”, a research titled “The Role of Antiviral Action of a Novel Multifunctional 3D Nano-vaccine against HIV-1 and Multiple Drug Resistant Pharmacotherapy: Towards Nano-robotic Utilization”. This project was given a highly statistically successful result by the end of two years. Personally, it was a huge success for me as a high school student. This research won a Gold Medal at the International Science Projects Olympiad 2015 held in Indonesia and was able to get the attraction of many local and international academic and private sector companies. At the same time, I was awarded as a presidential appreciation honoree by the President of Sri Lanka for the immense contribution to the field of medical research and to the society.
With all these achievements, I was able to gain more public attraction on medical research as well as in the field of HIV/AIDS. Since I wanted to expand my helping hands towards HIV positive individuals, in 2015, I co-founded another community organization “United Youth Consortium (UNYCom)” which was preliminary established with the help of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Sri Lanka. The objective of establishing UNYCom is to work as a national and international advocate for social work and its critical and holistic approach to understanding and intervening in social problems. Hereby, we aim to be the forefront advocate on the HIV and AIDS pandemic with special focus on sexual and reproductive health for marginalized populations in the country. At the moment, we are providing educational aid for the children of Lanka Plus members by conducting voluntary tuition lessons, conducting counseling sessions for HIV positive people, providing youth volunteers for organizations whose work are based on SRHR and HIV/AIDS, handling documentation and communication for Lanka Plus.
In early 2016, there was a pathetic incident happened in Sri Lanka based on a six year old child in Kuliyapitiya. His father died because of AIDS and mother is HIV positive. It was the first year of his school life but the administration of the particular school didn’t admit him because of his mother being HIV positive. Although the child is not infected, villagers also protested to take him to that school and the minister of education also said that child would not be admitted to the school and should separate the child from mother because HIV virus can be infected by mother to child hugging. It was ridiculous to hear such statement from a responsible politician. However, the school refused his admission and then many organizations stepped forward to help him. On that situation we, the Team UNYCom actively engaged as a youth organization and was able to admit him to one of the best schools in Sri Lanka.
Currently, we at UNYCom are conducting many ongoing projects based on a vast scope. With the traditional system of Sri Lanka it’s really hard to work on topics like SRH in schools but we are trying to establish a culture of talking about SRH with no hesitation in the society. Meantime, both ideanerd SL and UNYCom are collaborating to fulfill our country with thousands of pure smiles of youngsters.. It’s heart filling to see the results of my efforts blossoming! Five years of work prove that establishing ideanerd SL and UNYCom are truly inspired to create trailblazers and from their smile I see future community leaders.