Stories of Professionals of Color at Compass
As our organization works to foster transparency, facilitate deeper conversations, and drive action toward creating a more equitable community, we’ve launched the Unfiltered series as an essential component of that mission. In this post, Compass Clara House Childcare Provider Sudarma Kekulawela is interviewed by our Corporate Relations Manager, Stacy Webb.
What's your earliest memory of being inspired?
I am a native Sri Lankan, and I was influenced mainly by my grandmother, who told me stories about equality, compassion, and mindfulness. My Buddhist upbringing also greatly inspired me to understand those in need.
When did you realize that race, gender, sexual orientation, or identity would impact how you interact with the world around you?
I belong to the Sinhalese ethnicity, and we are the majority race in Sri Lanka. A 30-year-old ethnic war made me come to the US leaving my comfortable home and starting in a new country all over again. There had been a social revolution where the ruler was ousted. Once again, all races are living united in our homeland. After living in the US since 2007, I have felt that my race, gender, sexual orientation, and identity greatly influenced our culture.
As children, we were expected to do well and strive for excellence. Traditionally, women worked in the house and took care of the family, while men worked many years ago. Now, women are equally educated and working. However, most of the housework is done by women. It is expected of the woman too. Seldom would there be a man who would equally share the family responsibilities with the wife.
Sexual orientation was only known as straight, and all other variations were hushed! Everything was so strict when I was a kid, and I had to face many expectations from my family to excel in everything. The pressure was too exhausting. I gained many skills in decision-making, multi-tasking, and leadership by being a leader.
If you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be and why?
To be perfect is draining and exhausting. Nothing has to be perfect as long as our actions do not harm anyone. It is okay to make mistakes and learn from them.
What inspired you to work at Compass or with vulnerable populations?
I witnessed the reality of people who were homeless when I worked as a desk clerk in the Tenderloin while attending child development classes. My first Early Childhood Education (ECE) job was working with six preschool children from Compass Clara House, which was just a job that gave me money. I had no passion for working with a community of moms constantly stressed out, quarreling, and demanding. I did not understand the struggles they were going through, and neither did I know how to support them.
While working with these children and getting exposed to their family stories, I realized that what I felt as an immigrant in this country had been far superior to what the families in my care have faced. I was lucky to have papers with a clear immigration status. I understood the children’s dilemmas when CPS removed them from their parents due to various practices. My work as an educator positively impacted the children and the families, and my work is an essential service to people who need a caring adult to leave their children with.
My second ECE job was at the Epiphany Center as an Infant/toddler teacher, and the mothers were in recovery from all forms of abuse while we cared for their children. The second time I got hired at Compass as an Infant toddler teacher, I came prepared and confident about the job.
What supportive communities do you find helpful on your journey to learn and find purpose?
I have worked closely with therapists, early childhood mental health consultants, and other ECE professionals who have greatly inspired me to work with vulnerable families. By nature, I am compassionate, and my personality helped me reach out to people who need me. By getting a graduate degree in ECE, I met a cohort of like-minded teachers who share the same joy of helping people. I also attend relevant workshops and training by organizations like West ED and First 5. My First supervised field experience was done at Binda Magic with mentor teachers. Frank Duhl and Linda Sudak were also employees of Compass Children’s Center many years ago, and I learned the art of gently caring for infants from them.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely Sudarma Kekulawela's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Compass or its personnel.
Interview by Stacy Webb