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Turning My Weakness Into My Strength

As a project leader, she presented her first book published by one of the largest multilateral development banks and organized a meeting with youth from Sierra Leone to discuss the applications of technology and innovation for disaster risk management, Ivory Coast, November 2019. Photo by GFDRR/ World Bank Disaster Risk Management (DRM).


by Akiko Toya
Odenton, Md.

We have to make a determination, pray and take action. Unless we do so, our environment will not change in the least; though five or 10 years may pass, “that time” will never arrive. …

“That time” is the moment you resolve from the depths of your heart, “Now I will stand up and fight!” From that instant, your destiny changes. Your life develops. History begins. (Ikeda Sensei, The Heart of the Lotus Sutra, p. 26)

When I was in college, I would lie in bed each morning chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo until I could feel some sense of hope to get out of bed. I would have regular panic attacks, feeling as though I were drowning in cold water. No matter how much I chanted, I couldn’t break through.

A senior in faith encouraged me to chant like Ikeda Sensei does and dream
like he does. I thought to myself: What does that mean? What would Sensei strive to achieve?

As I chanted with this in mind, my perspective shifted from feeling like my anxiety was a weakness to recognizing its potential to become something of value in my life.

My perspective shifted from feeling like my anxiety was a weakness to
recognizing its potential to become something of value in my life.

While studying Sensei’s 2014 peace proposal, I came across this passage: “Building upon this foundation, ties of friendship and trust could be made even stronger through collaborative efforts to strengthen resilience, including disaster prevention and mitigation. Members of the younger generation should take the lead in this.”[1] I thought to myself: As a member of the younger generation, this is my path and mission. I can use my anxiety as a strength.

After finishing my graduate studies in 2016, I was hired as a disaster risk management specialist at one of the largest multilateral development banks. I entered a field in which 50% of my time is spent traveling to disaster-hit areas where there’s always personal risk. Given the nature of the work, it is common for those involved to experience extreme mental and emotional stress.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all my work trips were canceled, and
I wasn’t a part of any response teams. I thought I needed to just wait it out before traveling for work again. It was during this time that a senior in faith encouraged us to use the A-B-C Campaign[2] to battle the pandemic and its fallout. It hit me that, even though I work in a field prepared to address crises like the current pandemic, I didn’t believe that I could fundamentally change the situation.

As I started to chant for people’s safety and happiness, and to end this pandemic, a young women’s division member shared how difficult it was to apply for unemployment benefits. We decided to start chanting together every day, study Sensei’s guidance and support each other. Through these consistent daily efforts, she started receiving unemployment benefits! Also, my friend began practicing.

Shortly after, I received a call from my work that I would be joining a response team specifically focused on building financial resilience in African countries suffering from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

When I think of the lengthy road ahead, it’s easy to feel hopeless. As a disaster risk management specialist, however, it’s my job to provide security and comfort for those in times of fear and uncertainty. With the A-B-C Campaign as my foundation, I have the confidence to stand up and help others.

In my work, I now see this crisis as my opportunity to create a totally new world.


  1. ↩︎
  2. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SGI-USA initiated the A-B-C Campaign: A: Abundant chanting; B: Buddhist study; C: Connect life-to-life with members, guests and family (by phone or videoconferencing). ↩︎

Becoming the Happiest Person

Nothing Will Stand Between Me and My Dreams!