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Inspiring Hope and Confidence in Times of Disaster

In Houston at the site of the old Astrodome following Hurricane Katrina, August 2005. Photo by PAUL NIIHARA.

The World Tribune sat down with SGI-USA General Director Adin Strauss to learn about how financial contributions to the SGI-USA support its disaster relief efforts. This article also features vignettes from SGI-USA leaders who have closely worked with members impacted by natural disasters, and a member who received support in a time of need.

by Adin Strauss
SGI-USA General Director

While we are not a professional aid organization, the generous financial contributions of members to the SGI-USA allow us to provide assistance to those who have suffered significant damage and loss due to natural disasters. In addition to supporting individual members, we have consistently donated a portion of funds to Americares, a disaster relief and global health organization.

At these times, frontline leaders work together to reach out to each member to make sure they’re safe and can receive nourishment in faith. The action we take is based on the example of SGI President Ikeda. In one episode of The New Human Revolution, he prays deeply for those who were impacted by the 1959 Ise Bay Typhoon, which struck the southern coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu. It became one of the most destructive typhoons in the country’s history, leaving 5,098 individuals dead or missing and 38,921 suffering injuries.

In response, President Ikeda vowed in his heart: “I will dedicate my life to the happiness and triumph of these precious children of the Buddha” (vol. 2, p. 143). He went on to encourage the members, saying: “Our true worth is determined by how we proceed with our lives in the most painful of times. Moreover, the presence of people filled with courage and hope will cheer and hearten everyone around them” (NHR-2, 141).

As SGI-USA members, our aim is to encourage and inspire hope and confidence in one another that, as Bodhisattvas of the Earth, we have a mission to actualize Nichiren Daishonin’s words: “When great evil occurs, great good follows” (“Great Evil and Great Good,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1119)

In Houston at the site of the old Astrodome following Hurricane Katrina, August 2005. Photo by PAUL NIIHARA.

Past Key Relief Efforts of the SGI-USA

• Hurricane Katrina, Florida and Louisiana (2005)
• Hurricane Isaac, Louisiana (2012)
• Hurricane Harvey, Texas (2017)
• California Wildfires (2018)
• Getty Fires, California (2019)

Relieving Suffering

by Paul Niihara
Rocky Mountain Zone Leader

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck, I traveled with Danny Nagashima, who was the SGI-USA general director at the time, to New Orleans. We drove from Texas to Louisiana in hopes of seeing the members. When we arrived, roads were flooded and highways were closed. We informed the national guard that we were going to visit members of the SGI-USA community and our Buddhist center, and, fortunately, they allowed us to go in. We went on an all-out, one-to-one visitation campaign, delivering supplies on behalf of the SGI-USA to help members get back on their feet. In addition to personal visits, we held various meetings where Danny warmly encouraged the members to unite and turn poison into medicine. I feel it’s amazing that the SGI-USA can support our precious members in this way, giving them encouragement and relieving them of their sufferings.

“What Can We Do to Help?”

by Paul Benham
Gulf South Region Men’s Leader
Folsom, La.

When Hurricane Isaac came through Pensacola, Florida, in 2012, a group of local SGI-USA leaders and members loaded up and delivered supplies, such as drinking water and canned goods, to the members. We visited the houses of each of the members we could find and only returned home after accounting for everyone.

I always feel the protection from the members who are chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for our safety and now, when calamities happen in other places, I try to chant as much as I can for those who are impacted, too.

Finally, I can always feel SGI President Ikeda’s concern. He constantly thinks about those who are affected by natural disasters and often sends messages. I’ve found that our mentor’s spirit of encouragement and support is embodied by the members of the SGI-USA, who, in times of need, always ask, “What can we do to help?”

Not the End, But a Beginning

by Cheryl Stock-Tadeo
Women’s Division Member
Chico, Calif.

In November 2018, Northern California’s Camp Fire destroyed almost 11,000 properties. My husband and I were among those who lost their homes. Only a year earlier, we had lost our house to an accidental fire, and it took 11 months for it to be rebuilt. Two months after moving back in, we were displaced again by the wildfire.

Driving through town in the aftermath, I saw only desolation, death and burned-out cars and homes. I felt so fortunate to have the support of SGI members at this time. My seniors in faith visited my husband and me, and presented us with a book from SGI President Ikeda, as well as generous gift cards. My district leader visited me at the motel where we were staying and encouraged me that this was not the end, but a beginning. We chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and did gongyo together. I was filled with appreciation knowing that my SGI family didn’t forget me in my time of need.

The protection we received from the Gohonzon also extended beyond the SGI, and many other people warmly supported us, too. Even though I will never replace the things we lost in the fire, like photographs and pieces of art, my husband and I are so fortunate that we got out with our lives. We are rebuilding our future, one day at a time. The people I work with often ask me, “How do you still encourage others, even after you’ve experienced two fires yourself?” It’s my way of repaying my debt of gratitude for all the resources and support I have.

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