Coming together to fill a crucial gap

The Arka initiative for sexual and reproductive health

Over the years, the education system in Sri Lanka has flourished; however, there remains a noticeable gap in our system – the lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and support available to young people.
While this is a discussion that is polarising and is often stigmatised in a lot of cultures and societies, the issue is particularly acute in ours.

Through mandatory biology lessons, we all learnt the science of reproduction, but, that marks the extent of sexual education most Sri Lankan children have received.

The Arka initiative is a response to address the support and information gap that exists in our society and to provide tangible assistance to young people.

There are various organisations currently working towards similar goals, and the Arka initiative is not looking to duplicate the work that these organisations are doing.

Instead, it hopes to fill any gaps that currently exist in the status quo, and adopt a holistic approach in addressing sexual and reproductive health, which it believes to be not just physical, but also emotional and social in nature.


About the Arka Initiative
“The Arka Initiative is an effort to provide tangible and practical support to men and women on issues surrounding sexual and reproductive health.”

Their programmes
The Prána Series – Discussions and workshops that aim to close the information gap on sex and sexual health.
“We believe in frank conversations and safe spaces for communication. The Prána Series aim to get young people in touch with mentors and other healthcare professionals to discuss the challenges they face in realising their reproductive rights and accessing reproductive healthcare. We hope to close the information gap and demystify topics that are rarely discussed.”

The Padanama Programme – One-on-one mentoring and counselling sessions. Quick and confidential responses to questions.

“We believe that sexual and reproductive health is as much psychological and emotional as it is biological and physical. Therefore, we aim to facilitate one-on-one counselling and mentoring sessions with professional counsellors. Individuals grappling with the consequences of unsafe sexual practices or reproductive illnesses often do so alone, and we believe that it is crucial to create avenues for help.”

The Aeya Initiative – Assisting young girls in the realisation of their reproductive rights by facilitating access to medical checkups and tests.

“We believe women and girls in Sri Lanka require practical support in realising their reproductive rights. We hope to provide them with the tools and facilities they require, and also facilitate access to mechanisms and entities that can assist them.”

Their advisors
Dr. Suranga Hettipathirana (Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital)
Dr. Romesh Jayasinghe (Institute of Mental Health, Sri Lanka)
Dr. Eshani Wijesinghe (District General Hospital, Kalutara)

Meet the team

Manisha Dissanayake – Founder, Director
“I have a legal background, and having worked in government and policy over the last couple of years, I really struggled with the realisation that often there is a lot of planning and discussion that does not result in a tangible trickle-down effect to those who are in dire need of help. The Arka Initiative is a way for us to take a little piece of the world and address specific issues that affect people in very real ways.”

Shruthi De Visser – Director
“I am a researcher currently following my master’s in gender and women’s studies. I’ve been a part of campaigns working towards women’s rights and having worked outside of Colombo, in the grassroots, I realised that many people do not have access to information and support, and I’ve seen how it affects their understanding of who they are and what their relationships are like. I believe that sexual and reproductive health is a basic right and so is the access to information regarding it, and I believe the Arka Initiative is a great space for young men and women to receive the support they need.”

Dr. Radhika Sundararaj – Mentor (Medicine)
“There is a very obvious need for those with knowledge and awareness to share what they know, especially when it concerns the health and overall wellbeing of others. Arka is willing to tackle issues that are rampant in our society yet swept under the rug due to the discomfort or embarrassment associated with dealing with these issues. I’m excited to be a part of a team of unique individuals who not only see a clear problem that needs to be addressed, but will rise to the occasion by providing tangible solutions.”

Tamara Jayasinghe – Mentor (Biology)
“My background is in medical genetics, and now, as an educator I work with children between the ages of 14-18, and these issues are constantly being addressed in the classroom but it is very theoretical in nature. It is all just to pass an exam, which I completely disagree with because my students have questions all the time. And I see how reluctant they are to approach me, but once they realise it’s a safe space, the questions are endless. However, despite my efforts – I can only do so much – I believe that it is essential that they are given access to a wide spectrum of help, particularly access to professional help.”

Savindi Subasinghe Peiris – Mentor (Psychology)
“When we were discussing the initiative at its earlier stages, one thing that we quickly realised was that most of the issues that we wish to deal with, often boil down to stress, psychologically, whether it be a child trying to understand what’s going on in their body after puberty or two adults in a relationship trying to figure out their dynamic and how sex plays a role in that. I think learning to cope with that stress in a healthy manner is imperative, and that’s what I’ll be addressing as a part of my contribution.”

Kemalie Herath – Mentor (Medicine)
“I was very happy to join the team because as a medical student, I go to hospitals often, and I see that people are not so open about the issues they face, and are reluctant to come out and address them. We need a safe space for people to talk about such issues, and also need to provide sufficient awareness for doctors, to ensure that patients are not judged or made to feel uncomfortable. I will be addressing menstruation and menstrual health, irregularities that come with it, and other varying medical topics regarding one’s body at our upcoming workshop.”

Natasha Perera – Head of Creative
“I’m a designer currently working at an advertising agency that champions cause-marketing, and through that agency I’ve worked with a lot of ethical fashion brands and events such as the Women of the World Festival, to address women’s issues mostly. I joined the Arka Initiative as Head of Creative to assist in best communicating the initiative’s goals to a larger audience.”

Dilki Wijeyesekera – Head of Operations
“I have a background in economics and financial management, and I head operations at the Arka Initiative. Since I’ve been working with the Initiative, I’ve come to realise how unaware we are of our own bodies, as well as issues regarding sexual and reproductive health. I consider myself and my peers largely uninformed on these issues, and I can only imagine how younger or more disadvantaged individuals must be feeling when they have not been provided with the necessary guidance. When the idea was presented to me, I knew I wanted to be a part of the organisation, because it is a great cause.”

The Arka Initiative’s first event “Arka Circles: Myth vs. Fact” will be held on 8 December, 2018. Event details can be found on their Facebook and Instagram pages. Website, coming soon.

By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Photo: Krishan Kariyawasam