Discovering My Abilities

by Blandina Happiness Sembu, Tanzania



Happiness (left, front row) with fellow SGI members in Tanzania

I was very fortunate to meet Nichiren Buddhism in 1996 in Malindi, a town in Kenya on the coast of the Indian Ocean. I had many questions about the practice at first, but even so I felt something in the depths of my life that made me start practicing.

Although my name is Happiness, there was no happiness in my heart. Ten years before that time, I had lost my right arm in an accident. I was a single mother with a young daughter, my own parents had separated, I had no job, no money, and I suffered from serious asthma attacks.

Taking part in SGI activities, chanting and studying, was like medicine for the misery in my heart. I developed confidence and the courage to tackle obstacles with all my energy. My regular practice became the basis of my life, and within a few months I had achieved most of my determinations—and the rest were under way.

Then in 1998, my father asked me to come and live with him and, together with my baby, I moved to the town of Musoma near Lake Victoria in Tanzania. I had no money of my own and was completely dependent on my father. My mother was angry that I had chosen to go with him.

I was now chanting alone in a new environment. I lived in my father’s house together with other members of our extended family who did not understand my Buddhist practice. Because of this I chanted in secret, although I shared Buddhist materials with my father. Soon, I was able to start computer classes, and because I could translate from Swahili to English, I began to work part-time with a local Catholic sister.

Having the experience of overcoming various difficulties through practicing Buddhism gave me confidence in my capabilities and my future.

I still had to chant when the other members of my family were out. Finally, I had earned enough money to be able to add a separate room onto my father’s house for myself, where I could chant comfortably.

In 2000, my mother back in Kenya suffered a stroke while she was visiting Nairobi. My elderly grandmother traveled to Nairobi to help her but also fell sick. In my circumstances and with a young child, it was a big challenge for me to be able to make the long journey to Nairobi, but somehow I was able to do it and take my mother and grandmother back to Malindi. I felt that it was my Buddhist practice that gave me the strength to do this. Eventually, my father invited my mother to come and live with him in Tanzania, and in 2002, she died peacefully at his home.

I continued chanting, no matter what. Having the experience of overcoming various difficulties through practicing Buddhism gave me confidence in my capabilities and my future. That same year, I applied and was accepted for a national position in a disability organization in Tanzania. I became a board member and the national coordinator for the department for women and children with disabilities. To do this job, I had to move to Dar es Salaam and start a new life. I didn’t have enough money to rent a house there, as we have to pay a whole year’s rent in advance. After staying for a while in a lodge, I eventually found a relative who I could stay with and I was able to chant there, but again it was in secret.

Happiness sharing her experience at an SGI meeting

Ever since arriving in Tanzania, I had been looking for other SGI members and now I was finally able to find some. I was very happy to chant with others again and made a determination to get my own place to live. I slowly bought household goods and worked to make enough money to rent a room where I could carry out my Buddhist practice normally. I added to my income by doing translations from Swahili to English. In 2005, in my 10th year of practice, I received my Gohonzon (the mandala inscribed by Nichiren, which is the object of devotion in the SGI) in Malindi, where I had started to practice.

Looking back now after almost 20 years of practice, I feel that my whole life has transformed. I have received boundless benefits from my practice, including good health and good results for all my hard work and efforts, and I have been able to change negative tendencies in myself. I managed to get an extra job as a TV presenter on a women’s program twice a week, which I have been doing since 2006.

related article “I Am Master of My Mind”: Unleashing the Power of Transformation in Prisons “I Am Master of My Mind”: Unleashing the Power of Transformation in Prisons by  Sabra Williams,  USA Sabra Williams is a Soka Gakkai member and a successful film and television actor, whose career includes credits in Mission Impossible III and recurring roles in ABC’s Injustice and CBS’s Three Rivers. After making her mark as an actress and TV presenter in the UK, Sabra moved to the US in 2002, where she created the Actors’ Gang Prison Project. Launched in 2006, the project employs highly physical theatrical techniques based on the emotive 16th-century Italian “people’s theater” culture of commedia dell’arte. The work has proved transformative for inmates of the California prison system and has significantly reduced recidivism rates. Sabra was recently honored as a Champion of Change by the White House. In the disability movement, I have had the opportunity to travel to many countries to attend conferences, training sessions and workshops. I was even able to travel to Sweden and Australia with my sister as my personal assistant, as is the practice for disability conventions. When I travel, where possible, I try to visit the SGI center in that country. This makes me very happy.

I am now financially independent and able to pay school fees for my daughter, and I have bought a piece of land where I hope to build a house and hold Buddhist meetings.

SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says, “Even places that have been shrouded in darkness for billions of years can be illuminated. Even a stone from the bottom of a river can be used to produce fire. Our present sufferings, no matter how dark, have certainly not continued for billions of years, nor will they linger forever. The sun will definitely rise. In fact, its ascent has already begun.”

I was like a stone from the bottom of a river, but now my life is full of brightness thanks to this practice. Many SGI members in Africa face financial difficulties, but through strong faith, practice and study, and with strong determination, we can eventually become stones that will produce fire.

Courtesy January 2014 issue of the SGI Quarterly.

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