31 Jul 2019 My Victory Report
Gena Wong Pih Choon
Young Women Division Leader
I have experienced a lot of actual proof through my practice of Nichiren Buddhism. My life has entered the orbit of happiness and victory. I experienced my first major turning point at the age of 19 in 2011.
For many years, my family was entangled in a web of financial difficulties. Time and again, my parents, both self-employed in their respective businesses, were always terribly affected with every economic downturn. However, they managed to weather the problems one after another in the downturns following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. They would always chant abundant daimoku in the face of every challenge.
In 2009, another crisis hit us; it came as a real test of my faith. Our financial situation was so bad that the HDB instalments had snowballed into a hefty sum. My family was left with no choice but to sell our executive flat. We moved into a temporary rental room in Toa Payoh as our new three-room HDB flat was still under construction.
Four months into living in our temporary home, another couple moved into the next room in the same unit. This meant that the single toilet, kitchen and living room had to be shared between two families.
Life became harder. The four of us slept, ate, studied and watched television programmes in our tiny room. Cartons were everywhere, and mattresses were laid out on the floor.
Due to our severe financial difficulties and the cramped environment, the atmosphere at home was filled with tension and tempers flared easily.
My parents were also not comfortable leaving us alone in the flat when they were not around. Therefore, my sister and I had to “camp” at the Toa Payoh Public Library after school.
My grades in school were badly affected. It was an important year for me as I was taking my GCE ‘A’ Level examinations. However, my parents never blamed me for my poor results. Instead, they apologised for not giving us the best environment.
We tried very hard not to hold grudges in our situation because, as shared in Mrs Ikeda’s book, Kaneko’s Story, “complaints erase good fortune”. My parents were our role models. As a family, we continued to encourage one another and attend SSA activities together as much as we could. These meetings were always encouraging and hopeful. It allowed our family to strengthen our faith and forge ahead.
I made a decision to stay with my grandmother in August 2010 before the start of the ‘A’ Level self-study period. I was determined to fight on during this last lap. During these four months, I spent most of my time studying with my friends in the school library and continued to chant with conviction. At times when I felt discouraged, it was President Ikeda’s guidance that kept me going.
In March 2011, I received my ‘A’ Level results and was so elated that it was my best performance in my two years in Junior College. I confirmed a place in the National University of Singapore. In the same month, my family finally moved into our new home. My mom called it our “happiness home”. Though it was small, having a whole flat to our own was far better than having to share it with another family. I really treasure it. The joy of overcoming such a challenge is really indescribable.
During my freshman year in the National University of Singapore (NUS), I had the opportunity to apply for an overseas exchange programme. I has always harboured the dream of furthering my studies abroad some day.
I set my mind on an exchange programme that would last a semester. After browsing online, I decided on Sweden and told my mother about it. However, I failed to take into consideration the additional financial burden it would entail. Later it dawned on me that I will not be able to come up with the S$12,000 needed to finance the five-month trip. My mother wanted to support me but could not afford the sum. She encouraged me to apply the “Strategy of the Lotus Sutra” and win through my prayers.
I heeded her advice, while looking into other universities and their costs of living. After much research, I chanced upon Lithuania. Much to my surprise, I only needed S$4,000 for the exchange programme to Lithuania. When I also realised that SGI has a presence in Lithuania, I decided to go for it.
Though this exchange programme was comparatively cheaper, I still did not want to use my parents’ hard-earned money and was determined to raise the requisite funds myself.
On January 1, 2013, I set very specific prayers to raise S$4,000 and have the financial ability to go to Lithuania. Also, I must be accepted by the Vilnius University in Lithuania for the exchange programme.
All these years, I have been actively contributing to the Pei Hwa Secondary School as an alumna. I was pleasantly surprised to be called up in March 2013 for an interview for an Alumni Scholarship in their inception year.
I breezed through the interview with the panel and had a strong feeling that I would be awarded the scholarship.
Indeed, nothing is impossible with strong prayers and steely determination.
I was elated to be selected as one of the two university alumni members to receive a S$4,000 scholarship each.
Not long after, I received an email from NUS informing me that I was being offered a S$4,000 bursary for use during the exchange programme. I also planned to work during my three-month holidays to earn as much as I could for the trip.
With the S$8,000 of funding and the S$2,000 that I earned, I embarked on my trip to Lithuania to fulfil my cherished wish for an overseas experience.
More benefits awaited me upon my arrival in Lithuania. I was given free accommodation in a triple room at the host university’s dormitory and received another S$100 per month for grocery expenses. My monetary needs were so well taken care of that I could barely believe it.
Living in a foreign country, despite the initial euphoria, is not a bed of roses. In some European countries, burglary and theft cases are not unheard of. I have friends who were robbed or had their things stolen, but I had an enjoyable stay and was surrounded by nice people. It must have been because of my consistent faith practice and the prayers of my family that I was so well protected.
I made many friends and had the good fortune to be taught by a Lithuanian professor who saw my potential in academia and invited me to present my paper on Singapore’s Healthcare System at an international conference in Taiwan in August 2014. I was also fortunate to be introduced to Maria who is a Japanese Young Women Division leader who came to Lithuania alone 15 years ago. She was instrumental in driving Lithuania’s kosen-rufu movement. She went there with a stand-alone spirit—to bring Nichiren Buddhism to this country on behalf of her mentor, SGI President Ikeda.
As there was no SGI centre in Lithuania then, her home was like the headquarters. There were always new friends who were invited for Buddhist dialogues. The members strove hard to explain Buddhism in Lithuanian, spreading waves of happiness to those who came. I had a first-hand experience of the struggles of pioneering members in the building of SGI Lithuania and was deeply humbled. The joy and bliss of witnessing the first Men Division and first Young Women Division Gohonzon recipients were infectious.
Throughout my five-month stay in Lithuania, I chanted abundant daimoku. As a result, I was safe, in good health and even managed to backpack through 12 countries and 25 cities, including visiting different SGI Centres, all within my S$8,000 budget. I came back feeling more independent.
Having graduated from the NUS in July 2015, I have found a job and have embarked on my new journey in life. I am glad to be able to contribute to the financial stability of my family, hence giving us more financial freedom.
In the book titled The Vow of Ikeda Kayo-Kai, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda writes, “True joy can be found in the midst of challenges. Problems can help us grow. Strong opponents can make us stronger.” I have always cherished this guidance and it has enabled me to push on during times of difficulties.
I resolve to do my best to bring hope and joy to the people around me in order to repay my debts of gratitude to the organisation, President Ikeda and the Gohonzon. I am also determined to introduce as many people as I can to Nichiren Buddhism so that they too can achieve absolute happiness.
(Adapted from the testimony book I Arise published in 2015)
True joy can be found in the midst of challenges. Problems can help us grow. Strong opponents can make us stronger.
- SGI President Daisaku Ikeda