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Meera Pathmarajah
Education United States
I was born and raised in Lancaster, California, a small city north of Los Angeles. I grew up in a close-knit community of around forty Sri Lankan Tamil families. Apparently the public schools in our area were not so good in the 1980s, so my parents enrolled me in private Christian schools for my early education. For a number of reasons perhaps, I often felt invisible as a quiet, Tamil Hindu girl in my mostly white classrooms. At home, and with my Tamil friends and relatives, it was a different story. I enjoyed clowning around with them, playing basketball, and navigating the dichotomy of being raised by immigrant parents in a mostly white, capitalist, patriarchal society.
Much of my childhood involved time in the car, with my mother driving us to various classes, and from Lancaster to L.A. to learn Bharata Natyam and Carnatic music. At home, around the time I turned 11, my dad began a disciplined spiritual practice, involving meditation sessions and Hindu devotional chanting. He convinced my two sisters and I to also practice meditating every morning. As annoying as it was to wake up at 5:30am everyday, in hindsight, I can appreciate that this discipline sparked my interest in Hinduism, Vedanta philosophy, India and Tamil literature. My dad remains a spiritual giant in my life and I don’t know how my family would have coped with mother’s passing away to leukemia earlier this year if it were not for his steadfast faith and guidance.
The other formative aspect of my childhood was growing up hearing stories about the Sri Lankan civil war. I distinctly remember the story of Krishanthy Kumaraswamy, a 19 year old girl in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, who was the daughter of the principal of a renown school called Chundikuli Girls’ College. In 1996, she was gang raped and murdered on her way to school, and when her mother, brother and neighbor went looking for her, the Sri Lankan army brutally murdered the three of them also. This led to a high profile investigation, which led to the discovery of mass grave sites in Northern Sri Lanka. The suffering of Tamil people, the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan army and the Government, and the complicated armed struggle for independence led by the L.T.T.E., have deeply impacted my identity, my career and my community.
In 2003, I started a project to run youth leadership trainings for orphans in North and East Sri Lanka. Today, fifteen years later, this project has now evolved into an international educational non-profit called Visions Global Empowerment. To date, we have spent over 2 million dollars in Sri Lanka, India, Ethiopia and Nicaragua in support of leadership programs and educational technology projects for youth affected by poverty, conflict and disability.
Presently, I’m on the board of Visions, since most of my time is now dedicated to my 1 year old and 3 year old children. Fortunately, I have an awesome co-founder, Greg Buie, who has kept Visions going and growing while I have pursued other goals. Most recently, I completed a doctorate in International Education Policy and before that, I lived and worked in South and Southeast Asia for 4 years as a Program Manager for the non-profit, Room to Read.
These days, besides frequenting the Pleasanton Farmer's Market on weekends, with my wonderful husband Jey and my kids, Amala and Jeylan, I’ve taken a break from adjunct teaching at the University of San Francisco to write a book. I’m also gearing up to start part-time work on a Visions project related to Spanish literacy development.
To summarize my life in a nutshell, I grew up in a spiritual household in Lancaster, CA, I work in international educational development and I’m very open to advice about how to balance raising 2 small children while also trying to build a career!
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