Building Peace With Our Own Hands
SGI-Togo Chairperson Ida Gbodossou-Adjevi transforms her sorrow into mission by bringing hope to mothers around the world.
by Ida Gbodossou-Adjevi
SGI-Togo Chairperson Ida Gbodossou-Adjevi shares the origins of the kosen-rufu movement in her country, which SGI President Ikeda once praised in a poem as “the pearl of West Africa.” As a doctor, Ms. Gbodossou-Adjevi has striven to bring hope to mothers around the world. The following cheer expresses the spirit embodied by the SGI-Togo members to stand alone in advancing kosen-rufu:
Even alone, we will advance kosen-rufu!
Even alone, we will absolutely triumph!
Even with two people, we will advance kosen-rufu!
Even with three, we will absolutely triumph!
Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Why did you decide to become a doctor?
Ida Gbodossou-Adjevi: I grew up in a big family with 23 siblings. When I was a child, one of my older sisters was a nurse, and this led me to become interested in medicine. In particular, I was deeply affected after finding out that many mothers didn’t receive adequate treatment after childbirth, and sometimes even lost their lives due to this.
Hoping to help such people when I grew up, I studied very hard. After completing high school, I received a state scholarship in 1968 that allowed me to pursue my medical studies at a university in Dakar, Senegal. Later, I went on to study at a graduate school in France. And in 1978, I gave birth to my first son. However, unable to see eye to eye with his father about our future plans, I chose to raise my son alone.
This must have been a difficult time for you.
Ida: To earn a living, I worked at a medical facility while putting aside writing my doctoral thesis. At 6 a.m., I would drop off my son at day care and pick him up at 8 p.m. I was doing this every day, when one day, the day care director invited me to an SGI discussion meeting. Deeply moved by the members’ warmth and the powerful sound of their chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I immediately determined to start practicing. I received the Gohonzon in June 1980.
As I continued chanting, I made progress with my doctoral thesis, and fulfilled my dream to obtain a doctorate in medicine. Meeting my husband, who had started practicing Nichiren Buddhism around the same time I did, was also my great benefit. In October 1981, we married and returned to Togo in 1982.
As a new member, how was your journey developing the SGI in Togo?
Ida: While working as an obstetrician and gynecologist at a university hospital in the capital of Lomé, we embarked on our first steps toward kosen-rufu in Togo. There were no SGI members in the country at the time, so I tenaciously shared Buddhism with one person after another. Little by little, the number of people chanting grew, and, around the time when two members emigrated from London, we held our first discussion meeting on April 1, 1984. From those 20 people, the wheels of Togo kosen-rufu slowly began to turn.
Our passionate desire to improve the discussion meetings and to study Nichiren Daishonin’s writings moved us to seek at times from our fellow members in the neighboring country of Ghana. And, in August 1985, our long-awaited first SGI-Togo District was established. As a district leader, I gave my all in encouraging the members.
Congratulations! What challenges did you face?
Ida: While the majority of people in Togo practice traditional African religions, Catholicism or Islam, we united strongly as good citizens and overcame many obstacles together. At the same time, storms of karma assailed me. My third son was stillborn. As a doctor and leader of kosen-rufu, when I was with others, I tried to adopt a resolute attitude. But every night, after returning home, I felt as if I would be crushed under the weight of my sadness. All I could do was sit in front of the Gohonzon and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, forgetting the passage of time. I realized through my prayers that in order to transform my karma and that of my son, I must first overcome this sadness, not as a doctor or leader of kosen-rufu, but as a single human being.
I studied Nichiren’s writings and challenged myself in earnest, one day after another. I’ll never forget the joy I felt when the first chapter was established in Togo in 1992.
Thank you for sharing your struggles. What happened next?
Ida: In 1999, I reached a turning point in my career. I was able to open an obstetric and gynecological clinic in Lomé, with the help of people who were supportive of my type of treatment, focused on the happiness of mothers and their children. Based on the idea and belief that we are all entities of Myoho-renge-kyo, I named it “Myoren Clinic.” Having personally experienced deep sorrow myself, I make it a point in my medical practice to never miss the slightest symptoms of my patients and to always be there for mothers, who tend to be anxious.
Wow! How has your career taken off since then?
Ida: I’ve earned a good reputation, and now pregnant women from throughout Togo seek out my services. Through offering training for midwives, as well as by collaborating with national hospitals, my experience is being put to use to advance medical technology in Togo. Moreover, having heard about our clinic’s reputation, a state-run TV station invited me to appear in a medical segment on one of their shows. During the segment, I responded sincerely to questions from viewers, just as I would in my office, and it was so popular that it became a regular program. Now, every Wednesday and Friday morning for 30 minutes, I appear in this program with the host, and many on the viewers affectionately call me by the nickname “Mama Ida.” Today, the program is broadcast in seven French-speaking African countries, including in the Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Burkina Faso, as well as via satellite in Europe, America and Asia. It is my greatest joy and benefit that my skills are being used to reassure mothers around the world.
That’s incredible! From its beginning 35 years ago, how has kosen-rufu in Togo advanced?
Ida: SGI-Togo is developing, and now we have a zone that is made up of 13 regions. Last March, our long-awaited Togo Peace Center was completed. We held a grand opening, inviting many government officials, guests and neighboring SGI members from other countries.
At first, neighbors were a bit suspicious of a Buddhist facility, but seeing the members gathering with joy and happiness, they now have a deeper understanding of who we are, and they consider the center a source of pride in their city.
It’s been a year since the opening, and our momentum in propagation has more than doubled. Togo kosen-rufu started 35 years ago from speaking to one person about Buddhism, and now it has expanded to a force of 2,700 people. Just as Sensei called for—the curtain has resolutely risen on the “Century of Africa.”
I am convinced that people are yearning for Nichiren Buddhism, and for the happiness and justice of Africa. Based on Sensei’s humanistic philosophy, I am determined to gather many more youth to create a happy and peaceful new era of worldwide kosen-rufu with our own hands.