My name is Autumn Buzzell and I live and work in Ghana, West Africa with City of Refuge Ministries. Here, I run our school, Faith Roots International Academy, and get to be a part in rescuing and the healing of children who have been trafficked into the fishing trade, orphaned, abandoned, and those who just need a little extra loving. What an amazing gift this life is!

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

An amazing day!

Yesterday, I went to Cape Coast for the first time. It was a fun day to get away and experience something new since coming here. We left early in the morning yesterday to make the trip to Cape Coast. It was a long drive, but I took a little nap and then Stacy and played Boggle to entertain ourselves (I know Jenni...Boggle...don't worry, I only won ONCE!). When we finally arrived, we went to Kakum National Park first. Kakum National Park is a rainforest and it was beautiful. The leaves on the ground reminded me of some of the woods around San Francisco. So pretty! There are elephants, leopards, monkeys, and green mambas in the rainforest, but luckily, we didn't meet any of them on our journey through the park. We had to hike up quite a hill to make it to the canopy walk, the reason for our adventure. The canopy walk is a bunch of rope bridges that start 11 feet above the rainforest floor and go up to 40 feet above the rainforest floor. I was a little nervous about the whole thing, but was not quite as nervous as Marty, one of our guests from the States. She was terrified! But after crossing a couple of the bridges (there are seven of them altogether), you don't feel quite as scared anymore. That is, until Nosa or John start jumping up and down on the bridge in front of you! Quite an adventure FOR SURE! When we made it through all the bridges, we stopped for some coconut (becoming a favorite of mine) and John even got a cocoa bean to try. You don't really eat the beans, but you suck off the fruit around the outside. It had kind of a sweet soury taste. Really interesting! After Kakum, we made a pit stop in Elmina for lunch and then went to the slave castle there. Wow! What a surreal experience. The treatment of the slaves was terrible, in fact, the captain's headquarters had a trapdoor for slave women to travel through into his bedroom. Sick! And the numbers of people that came through with no place to take a bath or to go to the bathroom--it's shocking. The "door of no return" shocked me as well. A tiny slit in the wall where slaves go through to board the ship, 15 slaves per chain. They had been so ill-treated that they could fit through the door with no problem. At the end of the tour, I was just blown away by the fact that the slave trade is still a very real thing going on in the world today--and I get the priveledge of being on the forefront of stopping it. We all get that priveledge. The world should be a people of JUSTICE--there is just far to many injustices that have happened in the past for us not to learn our lesson. The road home was a long one as we got stuck in traffic outside of Accra. I had felt a sore throat coming on throughout the day, but tried to avoid the thought of me getting sick so I could enjoy my day. Unfortunately, a fever grabbed a hold of me and my sore throat escalated and today, I've been pretty much best friends with my bed--no energy to do much of anything and my body aching to badly (probably partly the hike and partly this bug) that I don't even want to move. Pray for it to go away! No fun at all! In any case, I am so glad that I got to experience our day out yesterday. So much fun and I learned so much about the slave trade that I want to do even more to put a stop to the slave trade of today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Challenge--Get ready for the rain...or the sun!

I tried to post something yesterday, but no such luck. The internet was just too slow to get the job done!

My Wednesday Challenge (which is has been a LOOOOONG time since I've been able to provide for you) is a pretty easy one, but it will be a bit dependant on the weather where you are.

For many of you, the rain has been falling for a couple of months now. Everywhere you go, you see umbrellas out and about. Well, it hasn't been raining here too often, but the sun is ALWAYS out! A common sight here in Ghana is a lady with an umbrella. The women here carry their babies on their backs. On a sunny day, you'll find an umbrella in their hand to protect themselves and their little one from the sun's hot rays.

Your challenge...put your umbrella away when it rains--take it out when it's sunny! Protect your skin from those harmful UV rays with an umbrella. Sure, you may get some funny looks, but you're the wise one in the end! Give it a try!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Blog--Meet JJ

So, I had a little brain freeze--I couldn't remember which kids I had written about in my Monday blogs. I had to go back through and look, but even then, I wasn't sure I caught them all. So, sorry if I RE-introduce a kid to you! You, know, there are quite a few to go around!

This week, I wanted to introduce you to JJ. JJ is John and Stacy's oldest biological son. His name is Johnbull Jr., hence the JJ.

JJ is an adorable kid. For a long time, he was missing his two front teeth. They got knocked out at the Freedom Center--I don't remember how--a football to the face or a bad fall. In any case, for a long time, he didn't have his top two teeth. Now, they are growing in and are these adorably large teeth!

JJ has some crazy hair. I guess he used to have curly hair like his brother Caleb, but after a haircut, his hair grew back straight and stiff and multi-colored. One of our visitors said he looked like he just came in from surfing. And I guess he does. . .his wild hair, darker skin, hawaiian shirt wardrobe.

JJ tends to be pretty shy until he knows you well. Sometimes, even if you look at him in a funny way, he'll try to hide. He doesn't really like being the center of attention for much of anything, except for dancing! Now, put that kid on a dance floor and he is a completely different child. His arms go this way and his body goes that way. He twirls, he points, he shrugs, he winks. . .it's just plain awesome. He has won his fair share of dance competitions here at the Freedom Center--mostly because his dancing is just so interestingly entertaining! Now, if we can just get his dancefloor confidence in the classroom, we'd be set.

JJ has a cry that will scare you! I've come running a couple of times when JJ has started to cry thinking that someone was severely injured or something terrible had happened. Usually, it had something to do with candy (he LOVES his candy).

While Caleb and Justice tend to be more touchy, JJ is definitely not a touch kid. He kind of avoids touch for the most part. He has to be coerced into hugging sometimes (Candy, JJ? Give me a hug first! :) ). But, there are times, when he'll enjoy a little lap sitting and snuggling.

JJ is an extremely bright boy, but even more extremely SLOW at completing his writing. Writing is just NOT HIS THING. It takes him FOREVER to copy something down into his notebook. He's improving, but it definitely takes a lot of work to get him motivated to write!

I LOVE LOVE LOVE when JJ runs. That boy tries so hard to keep up with the other kids when they run, but you know African kids--they can really haul! JJ is SO CUTE when he runs! His legs are spinning, but his upper body remains still. His arms just kinda stay straight at his side and he just moves his torso from side to side. It's just so cute!

Overall, JJ is a very sweet, happy little boy. He is loves to play, mostly with his buddies Miracle and Micheal. He enjoys time by himself as well, entertaining himself with puzzles, or any number of other things. It's a joy to work with such a sweet kid!

Here's a picture of JJ, Caleb, and Miracle playing together at school. JJ's the one with the hair like it was described above!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Summer Plans are Keeping me Busy!

This week has been a pretty busy one for me. Usually, I'm able to come home after work and just relax, watch a movie, or hang with the kids a bit. This week, for some reason, I felt the pressure to finish up some projects I was working on--namely an Intern and Volunteer application for our summer camp program this summer.

I'm so excited about the summer project. We're going to invite interns to be with us the whole month of August and then volunteers can join for the whole month or any week through August to help us staff the summer camp. Katie is coming in just a few more weeks to help us plan for it. So excited about that too.

The summer camp will be hosted at our house. There will be sports, drama, art, music, and so much more! We will have all of our kiddos (17 of them at least) participating and then will hopefully register some from the community for the month as well. We'll be looking for volunteers and interns to come and help us out. . .anyone interested? Keep checking out our website (www.cityofrefugeoutreach.com) for the applications and handbooks to become available--or email me at autumnbuzzell@gmail.com.

I have also been working on application for people that are interested in coming and volunteering with us as a teacher for a year or two. It would be so awesome to partner up each Ghanaian teacher with another teacher and classes can be team taught. Just seeing the fruit that it would bring in the kids and in the teachers themselves. . .exciting to think about. If you're interested in teaching overseas, keep your eyes open for job descriptions and applications posted on our website! We'd love to have you come and join the City of Refuge team!

Fun to be a part of this whole starting at the ground floor process--even if it does keep me busy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The dictionary declares providence to mean,
"God, especially when conceived as omnisciently directing the universe and the affairs of humankind with wise benevolence."

Yet, for us here at City of Refuge Ministries, Providence was the outgoing, passionate social worker that swept our office administrator, Juanitta, off her feet. Every time I saw Providence, he had a hand shake and a kind word for me. He loved our own kids at the center and, even more, loved his work. He worked as a probation office for youth and had dreams and aspirations of eventually becoming the head of the Social Welfare office here in Ghana.

Providence passed away today. At 26 years old, it was a shock to us all. He'd been sick for a long time, first losing blood through his gums, recieving transfusions, and eventually being administered blood thinners as a result of clotting in his legs. A clot made it to his brain this morning and he passed away.

We mourn with his family. And with Juanitta. And for ourselves as we have all lost a friend.

I look at the definition and wonder sometimes about God's infinite plan. All I can say is that, though we are sad, I leave Providence in HIS hands knowing that he has a plan and a purpose for every thing--both the good and the bad.

He's holding Providence now--with wise benevolence.


I had a nice chat conversation on Facebook with T yesterday. She's so wise and always offers good solutions to the problems I'm facing.

Yesterday, we chatted a bit about needing space. I love living here and I love having the kids around, but occasionally, it gets to be extremely overwhelming--especially when I have a full plate of paperwork and other things on my "to do" list, the steady stream of children at my door can be, well, overwhelming.

Sometimes, I have this incredible desire to just take time away from it all, and then I'm reminded of what I've come to do here and I try to check myself.

And yet, T reminded me that sometimes the healthiest thing for me to do is to take a break from it all so that I can fully be myself here. I may be instuting some "me" time in the near future, even if it means just taking some long walks by myself away from the house and the school!

Thanks T for your wisdom and here's hoping this overwhelming feeling will slowly disappear and more me can be available for ministry again!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saying Goodbye

This season of life here at City of Refuge is filled with volunteers. Ever since I have returned to Ghana, we have had visitors in and out of our home here. For the past month, we have had a group from Australia come to spend some time with us. YGAP is a group that raises funds for projects worldwide. They are raising the funds for our school building.

Today was the last day for our YGAP group. From the moment we got up this morning, we could feel the sadness creeping over the kiddos and all the YGAP team. Saying goodbye to the kids was always the hardest part of it all, both for the kids and for the adults. And when I see the kids start to cry...I just can't help but get a little teary eyed myself.

We took everyone to Accra and dropped them off for their weekend away. They will fly out of Ghana on Monday, after time resting and relaxing on the beach this weekend. The rest of us, the Ohio group, Tom (from the Australia team who was flying out later in the day), John and Stacy, and I got a little pizza and stopped at the tourist market so the Ohio group could bring home some gifts to their family.

On our way to drop Tom at the airport, John drove into a gas station to grab us some water. The tourist market made us all super thirsty. Accidently, John drove into the gas station through the exit only. A police man was standing there (to catch people doing just what we did) and he pulled John over and confiscated his license, telling him that he had to go down to the station to pick it up. Sometimes, these police officers here are just hunting down a bribe and it is so frustrating. Stacy got out to talk with the police officer as well, but he just ended up driving off with John's license.

We dropped Tom off at the airport (never fun to do when you have enjoyed a volunteer so much), and headed down to the police station. We all calmly walked in, hoping to get John's license back without any fine. In the end, an apology brought the license out and we were able to leave without another problem. Whew! What a night!

On the way home, we picked up some water (thankfully) and some shuya (some awesome meat with spices on it) and we chowed down.

I'm hoping we'll get to see some of these volunteers come through our doors again. What a pleasure it has been to have them partner with us in what we are doing here on a day to day basis. Looking forward to our next visitors coming through on Friday.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


It's been awhile since I've been to the Volta region--since last October when I went up with the NYU group. This trip was far different, as every trip there seems to be, and I really felt like the work that we did there is something that we can continue to work on in the future.

We headed out on Monday morning (and by morning, I mean 1 am) to make it to Dumbai and the ferry at the 8 am crossing. We made it in perfect timing and got on the ferry rather quickly. When we finally made it to Benjamase (across the river and a couple of hours in), we spent the afternoon chatting, eating lunch, and resting.

After some napping, we all got in a boat and headed across the lake to Ada Cope. You've heard me talk about this place before. It is a pretty remote village and it is where we rescued Abigail and DK from last June. We have been working with other fishermen there to rescue their trafficked children. We've been working with one man in particular, Dalali, to rescue his two slave children. Dalali has three wives and many children of his own. He has been working on the lake since he, himself, was just a boy. He has never been to school and rarely leaves his village. But, several years ago, at the death of his grandmother, he was left with a huge debt (he paid for the cost of the funeral, though the cost usually is left to the oldest living male relative). To see that his debt was repaid, Dalali took 2 girls from their family to come and work off the debt of the parents.

John and Stacy have been meeting with Dalali and building a relationship with him for about a year. They have been working with him on understanding the issue of child trafficking. And this visit was the first time that Dalali ever showed the children to us. He brought the two girls forward, one 9 and one 5, and told us that they had to repay the debt. The only way that he would release them was for us to pay their debt.

One thing that City of Refuge is very clear about is the payment of slaves. We DO NOT buy anyone's freedom. In this culture, if a slave's freedom is purchased, it gives permission to the slavemaster to get more children to be bought out of slavery again. It perpetuates the cycle instead of solving the problem. There are NGO's that work on this lake that are given funds to purchase children out of slavery and because of their actions, we are finding it harder and harder to show fisherman to make fishermen understand that releasing the children (with no payment) is the right thing to do. Our goal is to reveal to the fishermen the innocence of the children, the heart of each child, to give voice to the voiceless and empower the powerless. In any case, even though Dalali refused this time, we will keep pressing, keep pushing, keep challenging. There will come a day (hopefully soon) when those children will be set free.

After returning from Ada Cope, we all were tired. We ate dinner and then relaxed for the night.

The next day, our group split in two. Most of the people went into Chinderi to meet with the women from the water project. Two of the YGAP girls did a workshop with the women talking about different things from care for your babies to interviews regarding their employment with our water company. The other half of us stayed behind at the guest house in Bejamase to help with food preparation for our big feed later in the day. We helped box up 300 meals for kids. It was fun to get to put those meals together, chat with some of the volunteers, and get some time to read and relax (that hasn't happened very often lately in my life!).

When the team returned, we quickly ate lunch and then headed out to Lonkortor for our feeding program. Our goal with these feeding programs in the Volta region is to register children, give them deworming medication, and feed them. We want to keep track of the children in these villages so we can figure out who are fishing children, when children are moved from place to place, and who is caring for the child.

Usually our feeds are hectic messes and in the past, I have wondered if they create a bigger problem rather than helping to solve a problem. But, this time, though it was hectic, was much more organized. All of the children 12 and under were able to be registered, dewormed, and fed. We were able to identify a few slave children along the way too. . .including Stella and Godfreid who we have been working to rescue since we did community entry a year ago. All in all, it was a pretty successful day. We closed the feeding program quickly as the rains began to fall and they are pretty crazy when you're on the road! It was quite a trip back in the rain as I sat in the back of the bus. Every pothole seemed multiplied by the rainwater and the speed the driver was taking to get us home. Quite an adventurous trip back!

This morning, we were up bright and early to head back home. The trip always seems so long on the way back, but it's always good for a bit of reflection. This afternoon, I put on a little Tyrone Wells on my ipod and just sat in reflective mood--not just on my time at the Volta, but on times past as well. It was funny how Tyrone's songs can bring me back to times and places so clearly and so quickly. One song brought me back to singing in McClains. One brought me back to my roadtrip with the Whelpley's last summer. One brought me back to T and Evan's wedding planning days and their big wedding bash in AZ. And so many brought me back to room 2.5. One brought me back to convos with Bristol and concerts in the City. I know this is off on a random tangent, but bear with me, I'm coming to a point. Finally, I just settled on this thought that if people were able to experience this life of mine for even a short period of time. . .I wonder if their music would change, their eyes more open to the world around them. Tyrone sings this great song about metal and wood. Sara Groves has a number of songs. Brooke Fraser's Albertine album. Some are seeing the need for change in this world...and their music has shown it. But, what if more understood what was going on in this world? If people were able to experience this life of mine, I wonder what else would change? If enough people saw slavery first hand, in the faces of children, the strong arms of boys too young to have strong arms...how would it change them? And would it be enough to change the world?

Oh, God, I'm praying for eyes to be opened. I'm praying for hearts to be changed. I'm praying...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wednesday Challenge

This Wednesday is in honor of our Ride West Africa guys. These guys rode from Spain to Ghana in four months raising money and awareness about human trafficking in Ghana.

You challenge this week, put the car aside and hop on your bike! Take it for a spin! And everywhere YOU go, maybe take the time to mention City of Refuge ministries, the work we are doing to rescue the trafficked, orphaned, and abandoned children of Ghana--or talk about the world wide problem of trafficking! With 27 million slaves worldwide, there is definitely something to talk about!

You challenge this week is to take a stand. . .via wheels! Can't wait to hear all about it!

Welcoming Them In

I had every great intention to write a blog yesterday about our amazing day, but when I finally made it to my room, exhaustion took over and the blog never came about. And today, I came home, thinking I needed a little rest and time to write, and yet, as I came to my computer, the internet was down. Awww, life in Ghana! But, here I am, Wednesday morning, and finally ready to send this thing out!

The past few days have been busy with incoming teams from Australia and preparations for the Ride West Africa team coming in. This team left Australia four months ago to travel to Spain. They traveled all the way from Seville, Spain to Ghana in four months...on their bicycles. Everywhere they went, they told the story of child trafficking and labor in Ghana and raised funds for our school building along the way. We've been following them every now and then on their blog and have heard some of the crazy stories that they have experienced along the way (ie. a sand fly growing larvae in one of their knees, punctured tires, fights, bad food, etc). What an adventure!

The team finally planned on arriving in Doryumu on Monday. They had been staying in Accra for a couple of days to rest up before their final ride. We had set up some media interviews (go fig. . .they didn't show up when no money was put in their pockets), and a police escort. When they came to Doryum Junction, the road that we use to turn in Doryumu, the older kids met them there with their bikes to make the trip down the road to where we were ready at the finishing line.

The whole town seemed to have come out. Doryumu's "Keep Fit Club" all turned out with their bright orange t-shirts, and the ladies from the shops nearby came and filled out some of the seats. Some of the local children that don't attend school came to see what all the commotion was all about as well. In fact, we really noticed the high percentage of children (and adults) with special needs in our community from yesterday's big event (and yet another reason for why we need a special ed class in our school as they recieve NO opportunities or supervision during the day). And as the time approached for the rider's to arrive, the village chiefs and elders also came!

We spread out a red tape across the road for the riders to cross. And guess who came barreling down the road FIRST? DK of course. He was on a mission to reach the finish line first! He rode that bike so fast! And Valentina wasn't far behind and whizzed through the finish line without even the bat of an eye. Benard came next and was followed shortly by Rosemary and then, THE REST OF THE CREW! The rest of the kids were riding behind the Ride West Africa guys. It was so exciting to see them all together in their biking outfits and smiling from ear to ear! It was a terribly hot day, so we knew that they had to be hot and hungry, but I think that even more, they were just ready for the craziness of the last four months to finally have been completed.

We were so proud of all they did, all the money and awareness that they raised! Can't even imagine spending four months of my life biking across West Africa, but they did it. . .and they did it well!

Louise (the YGAP coordinator) gave a little speech and Johnbull stood to give out our thanks and then each of the guys stood to give a little talk as well. What a treat to have them there. All the kids were so excited to finally meet the boys that we had been talking about! They were so happy that they got to ride with them too.

We spent the rest of the day celebrating with cake and cokes. And then, everyone put on their dancing shoes and we played music and danced up a storm. It was such a fun afternoon, even if it was a long, hot day.

When we began out walk back home after the celebration, it seemed as if half the town kids decided to come along as well. They all played with our kids out in front of the house, riding bikes, playing football, and everyone was enjoying themselves.

It was a little bittersweet ending to the day though as Jess, Anthony, Kali, and Kion (our first Australian YGAP team) all had to head out. We had such a great time with them and we were sad to see them go, but hoping that it won't be the last time that we see them.

I have so many pictures to upload sometime in the near future. Keep checking facebook for those!

And cheers to YGAP and the amazing Ride West Africa boys! Thank you for all that you have done for us, to help us bring this school to the community of Doryum and to the orphaned, abandoned, and trafficked children of Ghana. We love you!