by Kate Wiggins
I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI for 31 years, and have been the executive director of the largest high-security emergency shelter for abused women and their children in Canada for the last eight years.
It is quite ironic that I work where I do, given that my father, an alcoholic, was extremely physically and emotionally abusive. I was forever feeling victimized until I encountered the SGI. I was drawn to this Buddhism initially for a number of reasons, the first being that the idea of a person being happy was such a novelty to me. I was also very excited about the emphasis on world peace--it spoke to me, particularly, since this notion was so foreign to me.
In April of 1980, the week before I joined the SGI, I was sexually assaulted and beaten up. My Buddhist friends, who were infinitely compassionate, protected me because they understood how deeply I was suffering and always encouraged me to win. With lots of support and prayer, I did win--I found my voice and, more importantly, stopped wearing the mantle of shame that I had felt so deeply throughout my life.
After obtaining my master's in Social Work, I had a son and started working in social services. I have since been blessed with three little granddaughters who spur me on even more to make the world a peaceful and safe place.
I am currently the chair of an organization that works with men who batter. I decided to sit on this board as I believe quite strongly that men need to be held accountable for their behavior, and I am not convinced that the judicial response is always the best. We have recently been participating in a project with the men's program, our family consultants through our local police services, our local John Howard Society and ourselves to surround high-risk families and to work with the men to ensure that they receive the services they need and understand their accountability. My organization provides outreach services to women going through the courts, and this is once again a collaborative process which has been seen by the women we serve as highly successful.
My work is mostly focused on leading within my organization and in the community, working directly with other service providers and government to create a system that works for those we serve. This is no easy task as we all have different mandates, funding streams and ways of providing service which are sometimes quite contradictory, even prickly.
I know that women are oppressed. I know that we live in a world where we didn't make the rules, where our traditional work and role has been made invisible, unwaged and devalued. But despite all, we still manage to convene, we gather to connect and support one another, to dialogue, renew and continue. We are changing the world through dialogue. As SGI President Ikeda noted in his 2004 Peace Proposal, "Peace is not some abstract concept far removed from our everyday lives. It is a question of how each of us plants and cultivates the seeds of peace in the reality of our daily living, in the depths of our being, throughout our lives. I am certain that herein lies the most reliable path to lasting peace."
We must create a planet where people understand and respect one another and treat each other with dignity. The only way to achieve this is by each of us standing up and doing our small part to make the world better from wherever we are. I am so fortunate to have a job where I can speak my truth and support the voices of others. As a Buddhist, I feel quite strongly that my role is to try to understand, to know people as deeply and compassionately as I can and, together with them, to create a better future.
[Courtesy, January 2011 SGI Quarterly]