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Working To Save the Children

Joan Anderson, Cambodia

[From the SGI Quarterly]

Joan Anderson was born into a wealthy Scottish family to loving and supportive parents. Although she seemed to have everything, as a child she often felt uneasy because she had so much while others around her had so little. By the time she was an adult, her unease had become a yearning to see the other side of life, to meet people who hadn't had that kind of opportunity and to see the values in their lives. 

Today, at the age of 35, Ms. Anderson supervises the Cambodian office of the Save the Children Fund (SCF), the largest children's charity in the United Kingdom which is striving to assist and empower children in 50 countries around the world.

Ms. Anderson believes that she was able to realize her dream of helping others because of her faith in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. Thanks to her ten-year practice in the SGI, she was able to overcome numerous personal problems that stood in the way of her personal happiness as well as her ability to help others. 

A Double Life
Before Ms. Anderson began practicing Buddhism, she lacked direction. After graduating from a university in Scotland with a degree in English language and literature, she moved to London where she was hired as an editor of a trade journal. In 1986, when she first encountered Buddhism, she was working as the editor of a magazine on retailing published by a team of securities analysts. 

Employment in the heart of London's gray-suited financial center was a source of considerable irony for Ms. Anderson, who felt that she was leading a double life. She was working in a very proper, official world; but outside of work she was living a self-destructive life that involved drugs and unhealthy social relationships with men. 

In retrospect, Ms. Anderson says that her unhappy choice of partners was due to a subconscious rejection of the values with which she was raised: "We [she and her sister] were having relationships with people whom my parents found it hard to accept. At one point, my father said, 'I know none of you girls would want to marry a man like me....' I remember that there was this awful silence because it was true."

She attended her first Buddhist meeting in 1986 thanks to a member of the London "underworld" whom she happened to be dating at the time. He had heard about Buddhism from a friend, and one day when they saw the telephone number of an SGI member on a card posted on a bulletin board in a local library, he suggested that they give the member a call. 

Taking Root
When Ms. Anderson and her boyfriend visited the SGI member's home, they met two women, a woman from Barbados who had joined the SGI in New York, and another woman of Indian descent, who warmly encouraged them to start practicing Buddhism. Ms. Anderson recalls that she decided to start practicing because: "My attitude toward life at that point was, okay, I'll try anything." 

Despite a separation from her boyfriend, a series of experiences encouraged her to continue her Buddhist practice. The most powerful was a fundamental change in her attitude toward life. She realized how destructive drugs were, and after a long struggle, she was able to live more happily without them. 

She also had the opportunity to attend an SGI training course in Trets, France, which focused on the love of parents for their children. This course marked a turning point in her attitude towards her parents. She realized how supportive her parents had been over the years, even after all the pain she had inflicted on them, and gradually her relationship with them has improved to become very close, one of real mutual respect and support. Recently she wrote a letter to her father in which she said, "If I could ever find anyone as wonderful as [you] to marry, I would be so fortunate." 

Thanks to her practice of Buddhism, Ms. Anderson also was able to put an end to her destructive relationships with men. Moreover, she finally understood that life's seeming inequities, the cause of so much discomfort when she was a child, were actually the manifestation of an individual's karma, and that the effects of an individual's negative karma could be ameliorated through Buddhist practice. 

Assignment: Cambodia
In 1987, the year in which she actually received the Gohonzon, the Buddhist object of worship, Ms. Anderson was working as the editor of a magazine for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), the British equivalent of the U.S. Peace Corps. Even though she had never had experience overseas, in 1990 she convinced the VSO to send her to Cambodia where she opened a branch of the VSO the following year. 

Upon her return to London in 1991, she was hired by the SCF. She felt that the SCF's view of youth is very much in line with the SGI's in striving to help children to help themselves. The SCF is continually working to promote children's rights, and it has been a driving force for the international ratification of these rights in a UN convention. In 1993, Ms. Anderson was sent back to Phnom Penh as the representative of SCF. She hadn't expected to get the job as director of the SCF Cambodia program because the job requirement was three to five years of experience overseas and she had had only 6 months of experience at that time.

Although there have been some economic advances in Cambodia since the election, Ms. Anderson feels that the deeper root causes of Cambodia's suffering poverty, lack of industry, lack of agricultural productivity, misuse of power, and lack of respect for human life remain unchanged. 

In spite of this situation, Ms. Anderson is optimistic. She points to a number of positive signs, including the good cooperation extended to the SCF by Cambodian officials in the Child Welfare Department and the spontaneity of the Cambodian people themselves. She is also encouraged by the small group of SGI members in Camdodia who are striving wholeheartedly for the welfare of the people. She has faith that "the SGI in the long term will really be a major force in Cambodia's regeneration." 

Acknowledging that meaningful change will be slow, Ms. Anderson believes that the construction of a peaceful and prosperous society can only come about through an inner reformation of the individual. Ms. Anderson has undergone just such a struggle in her own personal life. If she hadn't, she would never have been able to help the children of Cambodia.