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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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Starting a school in Ghana is not easy-o!

Since returning to Ghana, life has been BUSY! I wrote about my crazy week last week, and it's been the same this week. My sanity, in the form of Christy Lynch, has left me, but I'm still plugging away!

Teacher training started on Monday, and I have a great group of teachers that are working for us this year. They vary in age and experience, but I am trusting that they will be hardworking! It has been interesting to be in the role of teaching teachers. I often feel overwhelmed at the idea of leading our little brigade of 6 teachers this upcoming year. What I learned in 4 years of college and a year and a half in my credentialing program, plus years of teaching and subbing in the American education system, I am trying to teach them in just 1 week. Differentiation, learning styles, ELD strategies, classroom management, positive discipline systems, the writing process, phonics instruction, lesson planning, and much much more have been my focus this week. Needless to say, my throat is sore from talking so much, the teachers get this overwhelmed look on their faces by about an hour into training, but I'm feeling like more and more, they are feeling capable of doing what I have asked them to do.

I am looking forward to being a support role for the staff this year as I lead the school. I want to be able to pull small groups for instruction, support the teachers where they are lacking (and a couple of them look like this might be a big leap for them), and be able to be in the classrooms as much as possible.

When I was in the States, I got asked quite a bit what was one of the hardest things about living in Ghana and ultimately, it came down to working with people who had a different definition for integrity than I did. This year, the standards have been raised. I have the opportunity to really challenge people in holding fast to their integrity, to do something great for themselves and for the children of Ghana...and I'm really hoping that with the ability to take the time to do this and not have to teach my own class as well, that the level of integrity and the amount of work that will actually happen at Faith Roots will skyrocket.

But, let's just say that there is still a lot of work to be done...and it will continue throughout the year (and year) to come. Our school is roofed, but we have yet to plaster, put in windows and doors, bring our furniture in...we have a lot to do still! And school starts in a week. But, with the way that things work around here...we'll see how much happens in a week! I think that even I will be surprised!

So, starting a school in Ghana is not easy, but it is POSSIBLE! And that's pretty miraculous to me!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Today...I fell in love!

Ever since I moved to our village of Doryumu, I have noticed the large number of physical and mental disabilities among us. The number adds up every day and I am simply surprised by the sheer quantity of them all.

It has been my goal to be able to welcome EVERY student into Faith Roots this upcoming year. I want to be able to support every learner. I know that this year, it will be difficult, as we are working with a staff that has not taught this kind of curriculum and has not taught in this manner. And yet, today, I had the opportunity to show some love to a little girl with Down Syndrome in the form of offering her an education.

Pamela came, all dressed up, to register for school, but when we told her of the school fees, her mother, a single women who sells things to make money, was worried that she wouldn't have enough to make ends meet. She was concerned about her daughter, telling us that she still hasn't started to speak (at 5 years old) and that she is very stubborn at times. I could tell that the mother was desperate to believe that her daughter would be alright. She just wanted her to be given normal opportunities.

Pamela's mother asked a friend to help her pay her school fees and the man was quick to accept, wanting to give Pamela opportunities that wouldn't be offered to her in other places or other schools.

I asked Pamela to come and she ran to me, bright and cheery with a quick smile on her face. She came and chatted with me, making sounds that weren't familiar to me. I am looking forward to the joys and the challenges of the year ahead as we teach this little one how to communicate, learn, and grow! She will be joining our preschool class this year and I'm excited to see what God does in and through her!

Pamela needs a partial sponsor. If you would like to help us sponsor her, please contact me autumn@cityofrefugeoutreach.com.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Being back and busy!

I've been busy since I've been back in Ghana...but that's no big news, right?

Monday morning, we were supposed to meet at 8:00 am with the chiefs here in Doryum to discuss the orphan sponsorships (we are offering 8 full school sponsorships each year). Since there are 8 clans in Doryumu, we had to wait for the 8 chiefs to arrive. And, as Stacy says, TIA (This Is Africa), so the chiefs finally all arrived by 10 am and we were able to start our meeting. We chatted with them about selecting one orphaned child that we can sponsor from each of their clans. We will give them a full sponsorship to attend our school, including the uniform, school fees, book fees, and lunch fees. After talking through the details of the orphan sponsorships, we agreed to take the chiefs out to our Children's Village Site. So, John piled the oldest chiefs into the car and the rest of us climbed into a trotro (a word for a very old van) which the assemblyman was driving. Tom, Stacy, and I squished in next to Daddy Joe and we definitely felt Ghanaian for the moment.

Stacy has this saying. Every now and then, she will say, "T.I.A.". For awhile, I wasn't sure what she was saying, but now I know it to mean, "This Is Africa!". And that trotro ride was one of those things where all you can say is, "This is Africa!".

First of all, we were totally squished in there, almost lapping one another, chiefs and all. Then, the assemblyman almost missed the turnoff into our land, and we had to screech on our breaks and begin reversing toward our turn. Well, if you know anything about Ghana's roads, you'd realize that the shoulder on the road isn't the safest place to drive. We began reversing only to have one tire drop (quite a drop) off the side of the road. Needless to say, besides the slight worry that we might topple over and the loud scraping that was required to pull the trotro off the side of the road, we made it! After that adventure, we began driving to the site and wouldn't you know it, the military trainees were out practicing...WITH THEIR GUNS! Next thing you know, we had a group of trainees pointing their rifles at us. Tom, Stacy, and I all kinda ducked down a bit. I just kept watching this one young girl trainee who was having a hard time loading her gun...I kept thinking how unsteady she looked...oh goodness, I was glad to get out of there!

We finally made it to the site and took the chiefs around. They were impressed with the progress and took a picture out there to commemorate the day.

Since then, we've been busy! They assigned a young man from the village, Titi, to work with us. Tuesday and Wednesday, Francis, Stacy, and I went around from house to house to do orphan investigations. Thursday and Friday, we have been registering children for our school. By the end of the day today, we had (including our own CORM kids) over 40 50 children enrolled in the school. Halfway there! It's been fun getting to meet the children and I am praying that they will be committed to paying their own fees, bringing their children, and participating in all that we have planned. We will see!

Tuesday night was one of the most fun nights that I have had in Ghana. After the kids went to bed, the basketball boys (a couple of guys from Hoops International Cape Coast), Tom, Christy, Stacy, Nosa, and I all sat around the table outside and told stories and laughed and laughed and laughed. Nosa was the one who was entertaining us the most! I laughed so hard that I cried...and I cried so hard I thought I was going to wake up the next day with swollen eyes! Nosa is just so funny!

So, altogether, life has been busy...but it's been good! It's almost as if I have not been gone at all. There is so much to do and we're just always so busy! Ghana is good!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Back in Ghana!

So, I made it back yesterday after kinda a crazy flying experience.

I was so excited to get to meet with Jenn Sinclair, a friend from college who was flying in on Delta from Atlanta at the same time as me. Unfortunately, when I got in to JFK yesterday (was that just yesterday??--no, I guess that was the day before...Friday), there was a storm brewing and Jenn's plane was delayed because it couldn't land in New York. So, I waited and waited and the rain began to pour down and the sky turned black and thunder and lightening started up...and Jenn never came. They wouldn't let planes land and they wouldn't let planes take off.

Finally, the storm started quieting down a little bit and we started boarding our flight to Ghana. We were all settled and boarding when they told us that they were going to do a drink service because we were going to be on the ground for awhile. Yeah, AWHILE turned out to be 3 hours. We sat on the runway for almost 3 solid hours. We were supposed to leave at 9:30 pm and we didn't end up leaving until after midnight...and we just had to sit in the plane. The poor guy sitting next to me was going stir crazy!

But, I made it home. It was fun to have John, Christy, Tom, and Nosa greet me at the airport. Such familiar faces and having Christy here is just a little piece of my NorCal home, so that has been fun too.

When we made it back to the house, the kids came running from everywhere to see me and it's been so fun to hang out with all the kids again! Edwin came and sat on my lap for the majority of the night, and he sure did give me lots of kisses. Portia and Malvin have barely left my side and Justice has been extraordinarily huggy! The kids are wonderful!

And I have had the awesome opportunity to meet Dora and Mary. They are so cute! Poor Mary has measles though, so now she is being treated in the hospital since it is so contagious. Dora seems like she goes through crying periods like Abby once did, but that girl loves to dance. She got right into worship this morning. I think it's going to be awhile before they feel completely at home, but they are doing very well so far.

Loving being back and already see the craziness that is ahead of me.

School is starting up soon and there is still SO MUCH to do...praying for all of it to be ready before the big day--September 7th is the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Heading Home

The last few days have been a little nervewracking for me...only because I've been worried about my bags. I get this funny feeling in my stomach like a whole herd of butterflies were choosing to move in (I know...a herd!).

And here I am in Denver International with both of my bags on their way through (both at 52 pounds--why did I even need to worry?!) and a carry-on bag that I'm going to gate check (it's 71 pounds...don't feel the need to bench press that into the overhead bin this morning). Almost everything that I wanted to bring back with me is with me. Wow!

I loved my trip home. It was so fun and relaxing and I think I was able to work out and talk out a lot of things while I have been here. But, I am ready to get home to Ghana. I miss my kids. I'm excited to meet our new girls, Dora and Mary, who were rescued while I was away. I'm looking forward to seeing Tom and Christy, two friends who are volunteering there right now. I'm just excited! It's time.

So, by 12:30 pm (Ghana time) on Saturday, I'll be arriving back in Accra. Feet on the ground...ready to go. Rested, revitalized, and renewed...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Just thinking...

I know my posts on here have been few and far between since I've come to the States. It has just been such a wonderful time home, filled with laughter, fun, joy, time with friends and family, it has just been wonderful!

And at the same time, there is this pull...hearing about how Dora and Mary were rescued from Lalonya while I've been away...hearing about Victor's trip...knowing that there is so much work to be done when I return as well.

Today, I sat out under a tree overlooking Crawford resevoir, the clouds forming shadows over the mountains creating some of the most beautiful places in creation. As I sat there, I just processed the fact that I'm leaving again. Not that I'm not looking forward to returning home to Ghana (I miss everyone like crazy!), it's just...it's been so sweet being here.

So, while I'm looking forward to returning "home"...I feel the bittersweet that is leaving "home".

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

NorCal Extravaganza

Wow! I haven't had a chance to blog since I have been in NorCal. It was a whirlwind tour through face time with friends and PCC Supporters. It was so nice to be in another place that is just comfortable and so "home" for me! It was good that I had a nice relaxing time in SoCal, because this trip to NorCal was a busy one...definitely good, but definitely busy!

I loved getting to spend time with some of my best friends and just feel complete at home and myself from the second I landed to the time that I left.

When I arrived in Oakland, I had a whole CREW of people who cheered me into the baggage claim area. The funniest was Blabe holding a sign that said "Welcome to America", even though I had seen her a week before in SoCal. Oh, Blabe! And Cameron, oh my goodness, he is so big, he came running up to me and gave me a big hug! It's crazy how much someone can grow in 6 months. He is going to be going into Kindergarten in just a couple of weeks! After landing, we met up with Lauren, Joanna, and T at FENTON'S...one of my favorite ice cream places in the world! So yummy! It was an awesome night!

The whole trip, I was able to stay in my old house in East Menlo. It was so fun to just be "home" there. Katie is going to be moving in soon, so I had a room to myself to spread out all my stuff that I've been collecting for City of Refuge. It was nice to have a little space to myself, though I didn't have a ton of time to just hang by myself this week.

Throughout the week, I got to hang out with my friends (mostly Jenni, Katie, Bristol, Gina, Kirsten, Lauren, and the occasional Kolding or Blaber), do little adventures (like Filoli and Billy Elliot in the City), catch up with people I haven't seen for a year (like my school friends Tami, Michelle, Rosa, Carla and Debbie and their kiddos, and Serena and Colleeen), have one-on-ones (with some faves like Debbie Anderson, Jill Bigelow, and Carol Lee), and talk about City of Refuge to PCC'ers (at church, my open house, to the interns, and at my Celebrate and Pray). It was a full 10 days, but a fulfilling time! I definitely filled my quality time quota!

I just love my friends from PCC. They are some of the most supportive and encouraging people that I have in my life. Through thick and thin, these ladies have walked through it all and I'm so blessed to know them. Below is a picture of our small group and our trip to Disneyland last year. We took Cameron for his first trip to the big D and it was a blast!

This past weekend, I took a trip with these girls (plus Kirsten, my roomie!!!--and minus Lauren who was at home in Ohio with her fam for the weekend) to a cabin up near Twain Harte. It was awesome to just get away with a few of my best friends.

Here are some things that I LOVE about these ladies:

Jenni is the first girl in the line-up above and I also found this great picture of her below as well. She was a hall-mate back in our old Hope days, and then we got to know each other much better in a prayer group that we were a part of my senior year. I love being encouraged by her (totally her gifting), living out life, the depth of her character, the ways that she challenges me, and the ways that she makes me laugh. There have been many nights in the Ivy house where chasing her around the house was my source of entertainment...and she loves to make me squeal with all of my touch issues (like when she nuzzles my neck...sick). I also love Jenni's heart for the poor and the work that she is doing in EPA. She makes me so proud when I hear of all that she is doing through her organization. So amazing!

Bristol and Cameron are a matched pair and are the next two in the pic from our D-land trip. I first met Bristol when she was in my small group the summer she found out she was pregnant. I was continually amazed by her faith, her wisdom beyond her years, and her joy as she walked through that season of her life. Now, Bristol is still continually amazing me as she works hard to provide for Cameron, the ways that she loves and supports him, the grace that she shows others, and the pure boldness and passion she has for life. I have gained even more respect for her as I have been taking care of Edwin through the course of these past few months. Let me just tell you, being a mom is HARD WORK...which I'm sure I don't need to tell you, but Bristol is doing a wonderful job with her little man! And I loved getting to see her in action these past few days at the different event promoting 7 Continents. I am just so glad to have her as a friend.

Katie is the next one in the picture...the shortest one! I met her sister Lauren first when we were on the internship together in 2005. Lauren kept telling me that I reminded her of her older sister and when Katie came out in 2007, she became a fast friend. Katie is funny, kind, thoughtful, and has a beautiful servant-heart. We've worked in a lot of different ways together--as roommates (the loudest summer of my life), as co-workers (Bible Time), when she volunteered in my class every week (so grateful for all that she did and the difference she made in a few struggling readers!), as a partner in life change (weight watchers friend), play attender (season passes!), and then she came out to Ghana to help plan our summer camp. She is an amazing support and friend and I am so blessed to have in her in my life!

The last one in our pictures is Gina Leung. Gina is an ex-Ivy Houser and I got to know her through PCC stuff. She is super atheletic, enjoying hiking and camping and all those outdoorsy things, and she loves soccer. When Gina joined our small group, I got to know her even more! She is AWESOME! She is hungry for more of God, loves to encourage others, is swift to help out wherever she is needed, is funny, is super smart (chemist...hello!), and is more of a risk-taker than you'd think (just ask her about her 30th birthday!).

Below are a couple of pictures of Lauren and I. I couldn't just leave it to one because they were too funny!

These pictures really do express Lauren's and my relationship! We met the summer of 2005 when we did the internship together. Then, we came back in 2006 to lead the internship with Kat and Isaiah Whelpley (crazy summer, but some of my favorite life moments came from our times together as a leadership team). Lauren frequently says that she is her most craziest self when she is around me and it is probably the same with me around her. She is hilarious, talented, passionate, strong, and a solid friend. I love having Lauren on my team. She expresses things in ways I would never have thought of before and challenges me to think bigger! I love that she is still a part of my life 6 years later! Wow!

Last, but certainly not least, is my roommate Kirsten. I love this girl! She has so much passion and talent wrapped up in who she is and she challenges me to try even harder with my music. I met Kirsten when we interned together with the Flipside (taking it back to the old days) at PCC. It was so fun to get to know her there and then to get to share the SoCal connection (her at Azuza and me in Fullerton). Little did I know that I'd be living with her just a couple of years later. She has a passion for those trafficked into the sex trade, she works hard on allowing others to hear what she has to say through her music, and is constantly working on something new. She's totally artsy, whether through painting or scrapbooking or sewing or hats, this girl doesn't have a non-artsy bone in her body. She is so creative! And she is so giving. She completely re-wardrobed me when I left NorCal so that I'd be ready for my next teaching year. So awesome and a gift I would have never given myself! She is just an awesomely special friend!

So, pretty much, my time in NorCal was amazing. I'm sad about leaving them behind for another 6 months. But, it was sweet time together! So blessed to have such awesome people living life out with with. This life can be so rich!