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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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Felt a little like Moses Today...

Today, it really rained. I mean, poured. In fact, this past week, it's been raining like crazy, but today...wow!! It really came down.

Yesterday, our school bus got stuck in the mud, and with all the rain today, there wasn't even the likelihood of sending out kids out walking (like we had to do yesterday). So, John came to the rescue with our 4 wheel drive vehicle (thank you Winglers!). He took trip after trip after trip of the kids while the rain kept falling down and creating lakes outside of the school. I'm not even joking...the football field was a lake...the back of the school...a lake. It was CRAZINESS!

Finally, when we got in to go, we shoved about 11 adults and just about as many children into the car and off we went. At first, it felt just like the normal slimy, muddy clay road, until we turned the corner over by the children's home. The water that had been coming down for the past hour seemed to have gathered on our newly plowed road and the stacks of dirt on the sides of the road weren't even visible anymore. It was literally a river of water that we were driving through. The water was probably waist high, reaching up to the door of the vehicle. John was praying the whole time that the tires would just stay at the bottom. I guess the trip before, the car had just started to float down with the current that was making our road into a river.

We made it through the deep water and onto our other dirt road. This road is covered in the red clay that Africa is known for. And that's when I suddenly felt like Moses...it was like the parting of the Red Sea. We were still driving through immense amounts of water and the spray from the wheels was bright red on each side of the vehicle. It literally felt like we were driving down a parted sea with walls of that reddish water on each side of the car!

But, we made it home. The rain didn't hold us back! And more than once, I thanked God for the Wingler family who made it possible for us to buy that car. It is an absolute God-send! Especially now that I see what the rainy season is really made of! WOW-ZA!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Life without the TEAM

Today, my administrator was gone. He was in the hospital getting some tests run this weekend and because of that, he was gone today. I can't fault him for falling sick. I mean, we are practically working around the clock these days and even this weekend, I felt a little cold myself (but I warded it off with a round of zinc!).

But, today, I really felt the absense. Francis has been working by my side and has been so awesomely helpful since school has gotten underway. There isn't a day when he isn't running after me with something I have left behind (phone, keys...you name it). Well, today with him gone, let's just say that I pretty much lost my mind.

First of all, the day started off with a parade of parents coming through to pay for fees or ask questions about enrollment (of which we have over 50 parents on the waiting list!). That was a little stressful to begin with as, well, I don't speak Twi and Mr. Francis usually does all that stuff.

Second of all, Pamela came today full force! If you haven't heard any of my Pamela stories, I'm sure you'll hear more in future blogs! Let's just say that we're having a ball keeping our little Pamela busy these days. She has Down Syndrome and she loves to run away from anyone like it's a game. We are lucky enough that we have found a teacher to work with her one on one and I'll be training her tomorrow. I'll certainly be glad for the help as she has been running out of her classroom to commit all kinds of troublesome acts around the school since her arrival! I'm certainly glad to have her at the school, but very glad that we will have some one on one help from now on!

I have been meeting with some students to work on phonics instruction and get them caught up on what they should be learning, but it kept getting interruppted today. Today, we had about 6 kids come to the office because they weren't feeling well. One kid, Angelo, was so sick, I had to call John to take him home. He had malaria and needed treatment right away! He was shivering on our little office chairs. Besides that, I had parent meetings about sponsorships, kids in time out in my office, Miracle stopping by incessently with a boil that has been bothering him, and teachers popping in with different questions or concerns. It was quite a day!

Then, at the close of the day, our furniture finally arrived at the school. We've been waiting to get furniture from the other school, and it finally arrived. So, we loaded everything into the office and sped off. I think I'll have quite a job to do tomorrow to sort through everything that we now have in there! Quite a day!

And tonight, I am putting together my own version of an IEP as I meet tomorrow with Pamela's new teacher and her mom to talk about some strategies that we'll be using to teach Pamela. Wow! Sometimes I think to myself, what have I gotten myself into? And other times, when I see the joy on the faces of our students, or the happiness of a parent that has been offered a sponsorship for their child, I realize the sweet blessings of being here in this time and in this place!

Let's just say that I'm certainly thankful for Francis and I'll be happy to have him back at work when he's feeling better!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hanging with a lot of parents...

So, PTA's here in Ghana are like a really big deal. In fact, we charge parents when they don't attend...it's that bit of a deal!

Nene (Chief) Opata sit in the middle of all the parents at today's PTO meeting!

And today was our first meeting. We changed our PTA to a PTO (Parent/Teacher/Organization) which keeps it localized with our school instead of having to give money to a district wide or region fund. For a first meeting, it was pretty successful. Out of the approximately 80 parents that we have at our school, about 60 showed up. Not too bad! We talked about so many things, but the big thing was electing members for our executive board. We had to elect a certain number of members and it was fun to be a part of this whole experience. A little intimidating as we look toward the future and find ways to partner with the PTO board members, but I think it will be good in the long run. This job just keeps getting more and more complicated! Sometimes I wonder to myself what I have gotten myself into. Then I have to tell myself that this is God's thing anyway. He'll do with it what he wants! So, I'll keep trucking away and see what comes of all these new relationships with the 80 or so parents that have children in our school.

Francis led the meeting today and did a wonderful job! He's so energetic and the parents love him!

Front row center...I had to speak with all the parents about the vision for the school and our plans for the future as well as clarify some of the issues that were brought up with our agenda. Life certainly is different here! I don't think I ever expected that I would be leading a PTO in Ghana...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A little rain makes everything crazy...and muddy

We're finishing up rainy season here in Ghana, but Doryum hasn't gotten that message yet! Just when we think the weather is changing and it's getting hotter and not so rainy, it goes and pours buckets again!

Yesterday, right when we were closing out our day, it began to rain. Now, in a normal day, that would be fine, but in a day where you have close to 120 kids hanging around, this is a recipe for TROUBLE! First of all, I'm so grateful that we have a roof, but there were definitely a few leaks in our roof which made for some wet disruptions. And then, we haven't put a ceiling in yet in the classrooms, so the classrooms were so LOUD with the sound of the rain, that we pretty much had to call it a day.

Usually, after school, the kids either walk home or parents come to get them and by 3:30, the school is empty. Yesterday was another story! The kids wouldn't leave and the rain wouldn't let up and the parents didn't come! By 4:30, we still had about 50% of our kids in the school building, not sure how we were going to get them all home. And the taxis that were coming kept getting caught up in the mud. It was a mess!

By 5:30 last night, John came by for the last load, and BOY, was it a load. All of the teachers were still there as well as some of the kiddos. We tried to fit in all the kids, but one of the bigger boys had to walk home. I think we'll be happy when we get the school van up and running! It will help so much! But, piling all those kids on our laps led to some pretty muddy work of our legs and pants.

And today, well, today is Kwame Nkrumah day (the first President of Ghana), so we don't have school, but wouldn't you know it, it has been raining off and on all day today, so there really isn't much for any of us to do, but hang around inside. Not so much fun for a day off of school. Oh well!

We're glad for the rain though. It means we can plant our tomatoes and other veggies we have seeds for. That's exciting! Rain just makes things a little crazy around here...and REALLY muddy!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What REALLY matters!

This week has been EXTREMELY busy and hectic week and our internet has been down for the majority of the week, so I've not been able to get out any updates on life out here in Doryumu. So, I wanted to just give you a few snapshots from the week to give you a clue as to the craziness of it all.

First of all, we started this week with immense numbers of people coming to register their students. We quickly filled up our class rosters and had an overflow of about 45 people on a waiting list. Everyday, we were turning away eager parents waiting for their child to be registered at our school.

We also started this week with a new teacher. Madam Rita interviewed over the weekend and came and joined our staff on Monday. I was so impressed with her classroom demeanor and so happy that we were able to hire her! She was an absolute gift!

Tuesday, we had Edgar Seah's parents come and visit us. Edgar came and spent some time with us earlier this year (May and June) and we loved having him with us. He came up with some great ideas for our organization and we're excited to have him partner with us in the future! His parents are the the Semester at Sea voyage this semester as life-long learners. It was so fun to get to spend time with them and see where Edgar came from!

Wednesday, John and Stacy led John and Shirley Seah to Cape Coast, so I was on my own out at the school. It was fun to get the chance to drive around a bit (well, by around means, from our house to the school!). The day went by quickly and when we got home, I took the boys into town to get the corn ground. They were so happy that they didn't have to carry the corn themselves. And it was fun to hang out with them in town. After John and Stacy's trip to Cape Coast, they stopped by the airport to pick up Pastor Judy (their pastor from Souix Falls) and their friend Mark. She came into town for the dedication. I tried to stay up to say hello, but no such luck. I was too tired and hit the hay early!

On Thursday and Friday, we had groups from Semester at Sea come through. This is a regular occurance, once a semester, but this year, there were so many that signed up to come and visit, that they had to be split into two days. It was amazing to have the students come through, to get to cast the vision for what we are doing here at City of Refuge and to feel such pride as we walked the halls of Faith Roots to show that students are already learning and things are happening here! The Thursday group got quite a bit of play time with the kiddos and the kids LOVED it! I had to go and round up several classrooms because they didn't want to come in from their break time. Too funny! After about 2:00, the SAS students left to go do a feeding in Doryum. They made enough food to bless 100 of our students and the kids were so excited to have a meal to take home. The Friday group was different from Thursday's group. It was kind of funny that two groups could look so different. Friday's group was very interested in what we are doing as an organization and asked a lot of great questions! They had to leave pretty early in the day as they were doing a feed in Tema New Town, but we got to spend a lot of time just talking about our projects out at the Children's Village.

John Seah tutoring a FRIA student in Math.

Thursday was also challenging for me though. With the hectic-ness of the groups coming through, sick kids, school fees, lunch duty, and all that jazz, I neglected to lock one of the office doors and 165 GHc got stolen out of the office. I was so frustrated with myself. And poor Mr. Francis, my office administrator and right hand man, was beside himself that it had either been stolen or misplaced. We looked and looked and looked for it, but to no avail! John said that it was a lesson learned and I was glad that I had taken the majority of the school fees out of it a couple days before. But then, when I got home, John and Stacy had a surprise for me...they had bought me a new phone! And it's a NICE ONE! It's like an iphone, but just a different brand. Wow! I felt so undeserving after I had lost that money, but John and Stacy were so kind and reassuring about the whole situation. And the phone will be great to have out at the school so that I can keep the internet world updated on our work there!

Listening to the program at our Grand Opening Celebration on Saturday.

All week long, our teachers were working on our Saturday program with our students. I was so proud of them! The teachers worked hard everyday with our kids and some of them even came to the house to work at night. They were wonderful! And when Saturday came, their work paid off! The program, though it started on Africa time (an hour late), was beautiful! The students did their part remarkably well! And I was so proud of them and of the hard work that our teachers put into them! Apostle Judy led an amazing tribute to the school and dedicated to the Lord with some pretty amazing words! And John and Stacy honored me with a special gift, a desk plaque with my name and Faith Roots Int'l Academy engraved. What an honor! And then, Saturday after the celebration, John took us girls (the staff girls, Stacy, Pastor, and myself) to Accra to have a spa day. We all got manicures and pedicures and it was WONDERFUL! What a treat!
Apostle Judy officially opens the school!

Our school's dedication plaque...forever written in stone!

Today, Sunday, we had the opportunity to have Pastor Judy speak to us at our morning worship gathering. It was such a sweet time together as she talked about the key to life being "Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God and all other things will be added unto you". It was a such a great wrap up to such a busy week! I feel like it kind of centered things for me. So often, I get caught up in the stress of everything, but really if I continue to seek HIM FIRST, then all these other things that I'm always worried about will come about! Pastor Judy talked about a car accident that left her in the hospital for months and practically without a face. But, she remembers a day when she told the Lord, "It doesn't matter what I look like, you come first and I will never stop speaking your name!". After that day, a miracle happened for her. What was supposed to involve several reconstructive surgeries, her own skin GREW BACK on her face and left her unscarred! It was an amazing story and just a reminder that we are all here as a miracle in process. If we place God first, all other things will fall into place. It's the same with me and it's the same with Faith Roots. What a refreshing to have her here!

So, this next week, I'm putting aside the stress of last week and focusing on what really matters. God first...and everything else will come! Problems with staff...not an issue when God is in charge. Student problems...not an issue when God is in charge. School budget...nope. Sleep deprivation...nope. God is leading this thing and I've got to trust that he's got it under control or nothing else will matter. It's all about KINGDOM work being done here!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When Things are Awesome...

I'm learning both the good and the difficult of working as the principal of a school. Somethings are amazing here at Faith Roots, and some things are so challenging!

Here are some of the challenging things I've faced this week so far:
--children throwing up (everyday, someone new!)
--children running away
--My little Pamela (our down syndrome child is extremely challenging)
--Overseeing teachers that aren't doing what I've asked of them
--Working without all of our furniture
--children throwing fits

Here are a few of joys so far this week:
--Seeing the learning happening in each class
--Seeing some teachers implement what I've taught them
--Seeing the CORM kids making new friends and helping all the other kids grow accustomed to our program here
--One child called me beautiful yesterday. Gotta love that!
--Lots of hugs and smiles and hand shakes
--Hearing Madam Buzzell from the lips of all 120 students in our morning assembly
--Knowing that we are impacting the lives of these kids for years to come...and hopefully changing the future of some of them

This morning, we had our chapel service and I spoke about the Prodigal Son. It made me so excited to get to tell them about a Father who loves them so much that, no matter what we do, he'll always be waiting with arms open wide for us to come home. Sweet time with the kids and the teachers! Excited to get to be a part of teaching them how much God loves them!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Back to School

Today was more like a real first day of school. Our first day (last Wednesday) was calm and quiet and smooth. Today was crazy and full of running around trying to accomplish a million things and never feeling like anything much got done! Here is just a little picture of what today looked like:

*We arrived at 7:30 am to about 50 parents at the building ready to register. Mind you, we only had about 15 spots available still...
*Morning Assembly, the City of Refuge kids weren't there yet so our pledges were almost non-existent since the new kids haven't learned them yet.
*About 30 minutes into classtime, one of the kids threw up in kindergarten.
*Our little down syndrome girl, Pamela, was all over the place today. She ran out of the classroom about 50 times and spent probably half the day with me in the office. Our own Portia followed suit half the time, thinking that Pamela's day looked more fun than her own day in her classroom. That girl!
*We had 5 criers in preschool today. Two of them were runners and criers, so we were all holding them for awhile. They all eventually calmed down, but it took them most of the morning.
*One crier in Primary 1 today. He had bad cuts all up his legs. I cleaned them and band-aided him up, but he was not happy about having to go back to class.
*We registered all but 6 slots (one 2nd grade placement and 5 5th grade placements are still open).
*We ran out of books for the kids.
*The food today was delicious. Jallof rice and egg. Love our school cook!
*Can't wait until we get our school furniture and can finally feel a little more settled into our classrooms! And the office for that matter!
*Our new teacher did an amazing job today, especially since we didn't have a whiteboard available until about noon today. I'm really happy she's come to work with us!

All in all...out of 120 students, we had about 110 show up and it was a busy day. I have a feeling my days are always going to be that busy! Enjoying my role, even if it is a little stressful at times. Here's to another day!!! Let's hope it goes a little better than today!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Busy Weekend

Life doesn't slow down here very often...even when if feels slow, it is really busy! Today was one of those days where I just worked on paperwork all day long, so it felt like I wasn't doing very much, but it took me all day long.

Let me tell you, being a principal is a tough job. There is a lot to do! And working with a NGO adds to it as well. We're doing sponsorships with our school, so there is all the emailing that goes along with that (thank goodness I have a friend to help me out with some of that--thank you Kristin). We also have budgets to put together and monies to follow up on. And add that to visitors coming this week and a grand opening celebration for the school just next week and it all adds up to a lot of work!

Besides just a general feeling of being overwhelmed, I'm feeling pretty good about our teachers and our students. We started off last week with 30 something kids and by Friday, more of our classes were filled. Pretty crazy! We have less than 20 spots left in our whole school! That's pretty amazing!

Well, this blog isn't very imaginitive, but it's all I have the energy for tonight. More to come this week!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Catching the Vision and Running with It

I arrived in Ghana on July 27, 2010. I was coming in a little nervous about what was ahead. I had met with John and Stacy only once before and came in not quite sure what the task would look like for me.

I thought that I'd perhaps do some tutoring, that I'd work with them after school to get their levels up, and compile curriculum to help get their scores higher.

But, stepping off the plane, John and Stacy told me that their vision was for something quite bigger--starting a school...a whole school...in a country I had never been in before...with children I'd never met...and it was starting up in one month's time.

So, I took it in stride and Stacy and I went school-crazy for awhile, preparing lessons, talking about the vision of the school and what the future might hold! We started up Faith Roots International Academy at the Freedom Center in Tema. Everyday was a struggle at first as the kids and I had to learn how to communicate with each other, as we had to learn new styles of teaching and learning, and as we worked to bring out the best in each child.

It was a year of learning experiences for me. And in the middle of it all, we moved to Doryum, a village outside of Tema, and started our Children's Village building projects here. We started the foundation of the school on December 28--a school design which Stacy, John, and I dreamed up on one of our many car rides around Ghana...a school that YGAP has generously donated time and money to see built...as school that we continue to see expanding in the future and dream up ways to beautify amidst all the concrete dust that we currently see.

I couldn't have imagined six months ago that I would be starting up school this year. Staff problems were so discouraging at that point and for awhile, it seemed like nothing was falling into place the way that we had planned it. And yet, here we are...we don't have windows or doors, our floors are unfinished so they're a bit dusty, our toilets aren't installed yet, and we don't have electricity...but, school is in session...and it actually works without all of this things! I mean, I keep having to remind myself (and Stacy does too)--TIA!! This Is Africa! Somethings just work a different pace and with different expectations here, but we have desks and we have students and the kids are already learning.

I've been so impressed with most of our teachers so far. They've really been trying to implement the things that I taught them. Morning meetings are happening in every classroom. I am seeing decks of cards and popsicle sticks used as methods to call on students. I'm seeing teachers check student learning at the door. They're following curriculum (for the most part--still have some that need a little modeling help). Students are learning! I mean, we have such a variety of kids here. Some are 9 years old and have never been to school, but they are learning how to write their name and are showing improvement every day!

I look at what ONE YEAR has done...and I have to say...there is NO WAY THIS IS POSSIBLE! I get to live the impossible here. Yeah, the impossible is sometimes exhausting, but it becomes possible with God. He granted the vision. He called me here. And here we are...a school with 80 students (still more coming to register), 7 teachers, an office administrator, a school cook...and me. God is good. His visions are FAR BEYOND what we could ever dream up ourselves. I would NEVER in a million years, have thought that I would be a part of something like this. It even brings tears to my eyes at different moments throughout the day to walk through our halls and see the smiles of so many children in our classrooms.

He casts the vision. I know that it's His provision that has brought us this far. So, I'm running with it...

Sometimes I wonder what else God might have in store for me...because this one was pretty BIG!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cleaning up is a dirty business!

I meant to post this post on Tuesday, September 6, but our internet went out...so here it is!

Today, after meeting with the teachers this morning, the kids, the teachers, and I went out to the school for some clean-up time. Let me tell you, it was one of the dirtiest days that I have spent in Ghana...and believe me, I have seen my fair share of the African soil on my skin!

We pulled on gloves, which I eventually took off (talk about sweaty hands!), and we cleaned up around the school, picking up six months worth of trash that our builders had left behind. Some of the kids and teachers spent time sweeping out the classrooms. When Grace finished two full rooms, her body was so covered in cement dust, she looked positively gray! And my feet, from walking too and fro, through burnt patches of grass, and through the red soil that out there...let's just say that I looked almost Africa (well, my feet at least!).

The teachers worked so hard! They really showed that they were dedicated to the vision of the school! It was encouraging to work as a team for the first time this year!

The bathtub that night was definitely filled with a layer of grime, but I was pretty impressed with all that we accomplished and I'm excited about what is to come.

Tomorrow is our first day of school...I can't believe it's finally here!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thoughts on Teachers and Dreams

Last year, the problems that I had with my staff at the school was one of the most discouraging parts of my interactions here in Ghana.

This year, so far, I've already experienced a little staff drama already, but I'm realizing that working with a staff is just like working with a class of students. If you start off the year very strict, then you set yourself up for a staff that is successful throughout the year because they know their procedures and boundaries. I feel that this staff will be loyal and will really try to implement the things that I'm asking. So pleased with them this week!

The first day of school, I stressed the importance of attendance to the teachers and that they only have a few (5 to be exact) paid absences throughout the course of the year. And of course, yesterday, one of the teachers came to me requesting to have the entire month of school off for exams that she needs to take. I was pretty realistic with her that she was going to lose her job if she was literally requesting an entire month off of school.

But, today, we sat down and looked over her schedule. She really only needs to take 5 days off for testing throughout the next month. So, we figured out how to cover her class and how to prepare for her absences.

It was my first staff issue and I felt like we made a successful resolve to the problem. Whew! I had to be strict, but it I felt like it will help to build a successful year if I'm strict from the very beginning.

School starts on Wednesday and looking over the classrooms and the office, Stacy and I marveled at the fact that even without windows and doors...this time last year, this building wasn't even a twinkle in our eyes. God is good and He is in charge of this year. He is charge of the building. He is charge of these teachers and these students. God is a God of allowing people to dream dreams and see them come to fruition...and He gives dreams that are so much bigger than anything we would have ever imagined for ourselves. So proud to be working for my Daddy! When I look at the dreams that He has brought about this year, there is nothing else I can do but be grateful.

So, I'm grateful for this staff of teachers...

...and for the year ahead...

...and for the lives of the students that we get to minister to and impact...

...and for the ways that we get to be a part of this community...

...and for our school building that has a roof and walls and toilets and running water...

I'm grateful because my small vision of coming to Ghana to tutor some kids with City of Refuge has now grown to becoming a principal of a school of 100 students, leading a staff of teachers, partnering with John and Stacy in this ministry, and seeing God made real to so many that have traveled through. I never would have dreamed that for myself.

So, I'm trusting that this dream of 100 students is just a small start to what God has in mind. I think He has a few things up His sleeve that I never would have imagined!