Carina Taeko ChauCarina (center) with her mother and sister

I have a rare brittle bone disease called Osteogenesis imperfecta. When I was born, the doctors told my mother that I had only three weeks to live. An X-ray showed my spine was curved, my limbs were deformed, and there were many fractures throughout my vertebrae. I was often in the hospital. My bones could break anytime, even when I was sleeping. I’m not able to walk, but through physical therapy I became able to sit in a wheelchair.

When I was five years old, I got my first powered wheelchair to get around school. This was the first time I felt a sense of freedom. I was able to go wherever I wanted without having someone push me. Even then, I still needed help from family and aides. My main desire was to become independent in every aspect of my life.

The fractures lessened as years went by, but two days before my 14th birthday in 2001 I got a fracture on my right femur. It took over a year for my leg to heal, and a tutor was assigned from the school to teach me. It was difficult for me to sit in my wheelchair, so I decided to continue being tutored at home. Being stuck at home made me feel depressed and unmotivated.

related article We All Need Each Other We All Need Each Other by  Yo Kano,  USA Yo Kano was introduced to Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai in 1977 by his music teacher who was teaching him jazz theory and trumpet. He founded International Communication Service for the Blind (ICSB) in 1995. Like many teenagers, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I felt my options were limited. I tried to learn different things—drawing, sewing, web design—but none felt right. While I was at home, I started playing around with makeup. At first it was just for fun, but then I started getting really interested in it. My mother suggested I pursue it as a career. With so many decisions to make about my future, I decided to start practicing Nichiren Buddhism more seriously.

I was born into the practice but had never really practiced consistently. But since I was turning 18 and finishing high school, I thought I needed to take responsibility for my life. I realized that I had my own mind and the freedom to figure what kind of life I wanted.

Since I’ve been chanting more consistently, I’ve been able to achieve many of my goals, and opportunities began to open up for me. I took a makeup course that was paid for by state vocational funding. As it was difficult for me to go out and work as a makeup artist, I decided to do makeup tutorial videos on YouTube. This was a way for me to have the freedom to express myself through makeup and help teach people how to do it, even with my disability. I have also created a blog where I can write about beauty topics and share my thoughts and opinions with the world.

Whether one has a disability or not, everyone has challenges. I see each obstacle as an opportunity to strengthen and develop myself.

I also became more active in the SGI by supporting members in my district. My makeup expertise became useful when I was asked to be in charge of makeup for SGI-USA’s 2010 “Rock the Era” youth festival. Participating in SGI activities has helped me come out of my shell.

Recently I have begun to dream of traveling around the world. I’ve been to Tokyo and Paris, and it has been a challenge to find places that are handicap-accessible. That’s why my new goal is to host a travel show to help make traveling more accessible for disabled people, and to experience many diverse cultures.

Although I still have physical limitations, I believe freedom is a state of mind. I have the choice to pursue my dreams and help other people in my capacity. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda writes, “Freedom doesn’t mean an absence of all restrictions. It means possessing unshakable conviction in the face of any obstacle. This is true freedom.” Whether one has a disability or not, everyone has challenges. I see each obstacle as an opportunity to strengthen and develop myself, accomplish my dreams and embrace the unlimited possibilities in my life.

[Courtesy, July 2011 SGI Quarterly]

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