Fernanda BaumhardtFernanda Baumhardt (right)

In early 2006, at the peak of my career as an advertising sales executive, I moved from São Paulo to Los Angeles after securing a position at the digital division of a major international TV network. As a 36-year-old woman from the south of Brazil, I had gone far. My new office window overlooked the Hollywood sign. I drove my dream car, went to expensive restaurants and bought designer clothes.

But I felt empty and often cried in pain. It was then that a friend took me to my first SGI Buddhist meeting. Today, after several years of Buddhist practice and many changes, I feel fulfilled. I have found a sense of real purpose.

In January 2007, I decided to resign from that job. I was setting out to write a new story on a blank sheet of paper. The theme: to build a new path focused on humanitarian and planetary needs. I had the urge to make a difference in the world, even if only a small one.

So I switched. From Beverly Hills to the Earth Institute classrooms at Vrije University Amsterdam, to enroll in a Master’s program to understand Earth’s biggest challenges; from driving an SUV to fashionable restaurants in sunny LA to pedaling a used bike to the student’s canteen on the icy roads . . . I had no clue where this new path would take me. But through my Buddhist practice I was developing a solid inner strength and trust, which dominated my fears. I was determined to meet my life purpose no matter what.

In Buddhism, there are only two options when dealing with life’s obstacles: to win or to lose.

As my studies progressed, I founded an organization called Proplaneta with a mission of raising awareness of critical social and environmental issues, motivating reflection, action and change. Participatory video projects took me to Trinidad and Tobago, Malawi, Ethiopia, India, Egypt and Morocco, and I worked with the Red Cross.

To my surprise, a participatory video project we jointly developed in Malawi was granted an international award from the global Images & Voices of Hope organization, which honors professionals who use media to benefit global society.

Then, as I was beginning my new path, breast cancer forced me to stop and fight for my own life. In Buddhism, there are only two options when dealing with life’s obstacles: to win or to lose. In my case, losing meant dying! The battle included a radical surgery and treatment that altogether took six months.

To help me feel a bit more normal amidst all this, I volunteered at Brazil’s Earth Charter office whenever I was free from the hospital’s routine. With the support of a dear friend, we developed Earth Charter Brazil’s first communication campaign aimed at raising awareness for the movement. The passion I felt to make the Earth Charter’s principles more widely known brought me back to life.

related article Buddhism in Action: Promoting Ecological Sustainability Buddhism in Action: Promoting Ecological Sustainability by  Joan Anderson, Soka Gakkai International Office of Public Information Joan Anderson describes how Buddhism inspires those SGI members who are engaged in environmental activism across the world. In May 2009, I was declared 100 percent cured and, in the most perfect synchronicity, I reencountered the love of my life. In 2010, I led Earth Charter’s new communication campaign, this time to be launched worldwide. I led a group of volunteers of the Earth Charter communications task force in raising US$19 million in media space donations. This took the Earth Charter’s message around the globe:

It starts with you, in transforming yourself to transform the world . . . We are all Earth citizens and dream of a world that is more just, sustainable and peaceful. Earth Charter. It starts with one.

I recently got married and my husband and I now live in Rio de Janeiro, where the city meets the forest. Proplaneta moved to a new office facing the tropical mountain heights. The view certainly inspires the never-ending struggles of hope and action toward a better world. There is a lot to be done.

[Courtesy of April 2012 SGI Quarterly]

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