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, June 27, 2012

The Process of Healing

The work that we do here at City of Refuge, well, oftentimes, it seems so heroic.  But really, our work is very little about the investigations and rescues that we do and so much about the after-care that children are provided. 

Our investigation process can be a long process with many pieces and sometimes, not very many answers.  It can be frustrating.  It can be beautiful.  It can be sad.  It is all completely overwhelming as we talk about "changing culture" not only changing lives.  And most of the time, we don't have solutions to the problems that communities and families face when they give up the children that really present their livelihood.  Or even if we have ideas, it's the process of putting them into play in these fishing communities that also presents a problem. 

We have been working on some rescues and investigations for OVER TWO YEARS and others have taken merely an hour.  They all vary and they all face different problems and situations to find out the truth of the matter.

But, even longer than the investigation and rescue process is the healing process for the children who are rescued.

When I first arrived at City of Refuge in July 2010, DK and Abigail had been rescued only a month before.  Abigail would have these painful moments of crying where only she resided and no one could enter into those moments or even bring her out of them until she was ready.  She didn't know Twi and since DK was the only other person at CORM who understood Adangme, she would insult him up one side and down the other.  And then came the stealing...urges so powerful and obvious that we didn't even know how to address it. 

She was like a little child in so many ways, begging to be picked up and held like Edwin and Portia (who at that time were 1 and 3).  And so, after awhile, John, Stacy, and I began to hold her.  We began to pick her up and rock her like a baby.  We would sit down and put her head in our laps and caress her and whisper to her how much God loves her.
Our happy Abigail this Easter

Eventually, she began to understand Twi.  Then English.  Eventually, she began to move forward in school.  And the fits of crying began to decrease.  The insults stopped.  Her smile began to light up her face and a different girl came out of the shell that we had rescued.  Only the anger remained.

We still don't know all of Abigail's story, only what she has seen fit to disclose.  But, we know the abuse was great.  And we know that if her anger could be transferred into strength of character, well, I would trust her to lead her people into revolution!

Handsome DK
And DK, well, he adjusted right away.  The chance to go to school was a life-saving grace to him.  In the 2 years that he has been in school, you wouldn't even recognize the same boy as the one before.  He speaks with grace.  He understands what he has been through and he is fighting for the future of others.  He writes with compassion, love, and humor.  This boy is a leader through and through and I can see him standing and proclaiming FREEDOM over the lives of others his whole life!

Dora, Dora
When Mary and Dora were brought home, their transition was literally hours.  By the evening that they were brought home, they were dancing at CORM's nightly dance parties.  Their first words, ashamedly, were from the 1980's anthem "I WANT CANDY", which they chanted through the house during their first weeks with us.  But, even if their transition was easy, the trauma is still there.  Dora, our forgetful girl, struggles to remember the face of her siblings whom she visited several weeks ago and cannot speak her own language even though it is used in our classrooms on a regular basis.  She goes through seasons of incredible attention-seeking behavior, to hiding herself in tears that too easily come.  And Mary, our happy girl, well, she is still scared that if she is ever taken to visit her family, that she won't be able to come back.  The fear of being sold again haunts the word "home".  So, making her feel safe is a priority for us.  Safe and loved!
Smiling Mary

Florence, Hannah, Sammy (in back), Alex, John, and Benard
Our new kids aren't the exception to this rule of PROCESS.  Raphel transitioned well, but being on his own for so long, he struggles to follow rules and the structure of a school day, while beneficial, can sometimes be a challenge for him. 

Benard, while painfully quiet the first few days, now walks with this funny little sideways swagger as he feels comfortable in his new home.  Mama Theresia confidently tells me that these new children are "all trouble".  Which is pretty common among newly rescued children. 

They fight, well, like siblings.  And snce they only hear the Adangme language, they are easily frustrated.  They argue and fight over toys.  They shout and knock heads and insult each other.  This part of the process is always painful and leaves us, the caregivers, wondering when that little change will happen.  That change that comes when the children finally realize they are HOME.  They don't have to live in survival mode any longer.  They are home and they are loved...unconditionally and completely.  The moment that they understand God's everlasting pursuit of THEM, that is when the change happens and that is the moment that we simply have to wait for.

The first few days with our newest rescues, Florence, Hannah, Sammy, Alex, and John were especially challenging, especially for the girls.  Little Florence is probably 7 years old, but her malnourished size looks closer to that of a five year old.  She fears everyone.  Her first day here, she isolated herself away from the others, had a hard time eating what she was given, got still at any little touch, couldn't play, but merely sat.  It was painful to see her fear so evident.  And little Hannah got upset about not attending school right away and cried for the whole morning her second day here because she couldn't go to school with all the other CORM kids (we have them transition here for a few months and teach them basic English skills before we send them to school). 

While Benard and Raphel got into the habit of daily hugs and kisses from all of us here, the new kids have a hard time even recieving touch. 

It shows how deep their previous abuse was, how completely foreign the idea of affection is to them.

But, I know that this process of healing is gradual.  It will take time to earn trust.  Their felt needs have to be met before any other need can be addressed.  They need to know that they WILL be fed three times a day.  They need to understand that we WILL be there for them day in and day out.  They have to come to understand that they have been GIVEN back their childhood.  They have to learn how to play.  They have to learn how to speak.  They have to learn how to recieve love.

And this process isn't easy.  It requires wisdom and grace and ultimately, we have to be filled with God's love so we can OVERFLOW upon these new little ones. 

I've never been here before when so many have been rescued and I love to see new lives being born.  And I'm trusting that this process of healing will be evident in these kids' lives over time.  After all, God called his Holy Spirit the "Comforter", so I'm praying that the "Comforter" will be so very near in the months ahead.  Near to these kids, and granting wisdom and discernment to us who are walking them through this process.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Setting a Foundation

The past two weeks with my mom and the medical team here in Ghana, it has been incredibly busy!  And even after they left (which felt like it was just too short of a time), we have still been incredibly busy.  I tried to get up the energy to clean my room and help the kids with homework yesterday, but I was so exhausted, very little got done!

But, when I think about what was actually accomplished during the past couple of weeks, I realize that it was more than a momentary offering of medical services to these people, it was setting up a foundation for the future.

It is our dream to open up a clinic here on our Children's Village property in the near future and these clinics were a valuable tool to really assess the needs that we would be able to assist with in the coming years.

Before we left to the Volta, we went to visit our friend Dr. Narh and her clinic in Accra, the West African AIDS Foundation.  She is such a pleasure to partner with on various different outreaches and after seeing her work at her clinic, we are even more excited to figure out ways to continue to partner. 

When we were at her clinic, she told us stories of the stigma that is present here in Ghana regarding those with AIDS and HIV.  One story was especially heartbreaking.  She told us of two pregnant ladies who went to the hospital during delivery.  They were both HIV positive and when the nurses found out, they were refused treatment and instead were given a variety of insults about their character, their children, their lives.  One woman, who was ready to give birth, after hearing enough from the nurses (who had started triple-gloving their hands to be ready for delivery), got up from the bed and the baby literally fell from her onto the floor.  None of the nurses came to help.  The other woman, who had watched the treatment this woman had recieved, decided to just keep quiet and delivered her baby on her own.

It was a horrible story of the stigma that is alive and well here in Ghana.

After hearing these stories, and then seeing the faces of the HIV positive in our school and in our community, we know that a clinic has to be in our near plans.  We can be part of the answer to educating these families and removing stigma, to providing medication and counseling services to children and parents, and we can be a part of providing a safe, healthy, and encouraging birthing experience to mothers in our community.  There are answers to this problem...there is hope.

Shortly after completing our clinic here in Doryumu, a friend of ours was "dreaming" with me about building our clinic with a birthing center.  What an amazing answer to prayer that would be to the women of this community.  What if giving birth here in Ghana was actually something worth looking forward to?  What if it was celebrated instead of dreaded?  What if it brought joy instead of despair? 

We'll keep dreaming and we are so thankful that the foundation has begun for the future of our clinic here in Doryumu.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hitting close to home

Today was the medical clinic here at the school for Faith Roots families and Doryumu residents.  It was awesome.  Dr. McMicheal and his family joined us for the clinic and it worked out perfectly.  They saw SO many people come through today.  I don't know that I could even keep track of the numbers.

The hardest part for me was the fact that if there were any problems with families...well, it became personal.  For some reason, we did the clinic in the Volta and it was so different to just talk to people you didn't know about news that could potentially change the rest of their life.  And then, to talk to these people--families that you see day in and day out...students that you pray over...families that you talk to as they come to visit in the office. 

Let's just say that it was an emotional day for me.  To find out that some are HIV positive...it was absolutely heartbreaking to me.  I had a hard time managing my emotions the rest of the day.

I watched one of our students, an orphan who is considerably neglected in the home, be diagnosed with HIV.  We didn't even have anyone to tell.  No guardian came to see to him.  We walked him through the line, made sure he was assessed by the nurses and seen by the doctor when it came to an angry looking sore on his leg.  When the diagnosis came back, I started tearing up and had to walk away for a little while.  I thought about his already painful life, and was just sad.

I know that HIV can be managed.  We work with an amazing program called the West African Aids Foundation and they do SO MUCH to help change the stigma of AIDS here in Ghana, providing education and counseling and treatment.  And so I'm praying for our friends there and the future ways that we can be involved in helping to defeat the stigma of HIV here in Ghana and in our community.  And I'm also praying for my little student, the one who is alone and I'm praying that God would be so present to Him, and to us, as we continue to serve "the least of these".

Before the day ended, it became still more emotional for me.

I wrote a month or so ago about some students of ours whose mother had passed away after being sent away to a shrine.  The boys have yet to have returned to school.  It has been something I have been so concerned about, knowing that the boys hometown is near the lake and the possibility of them being sold into slavery.

Yesterday, I had Mr. Francis call the father and tell him to bring the children to us today to talk about options for the family.  The man was pretty set on leaving his children here with us, but after hearing his story, we decided that he was simply being irresponsible and unwilling to stand up for the future of his children.  So, we decided that we would fully sponsor all THREE of his children at school (we'll be looking for two sponsors since one of the kids is already sponsored) and he will be required to take care of his children at home.  It took some convincing, and we're worried about the outcome, but we're going to give it a try. 

In the end of that meeting, we just had to tell the father--the only thing that would change his heart about taking responsibility for his kids is Jesus.  He needs to know and understand Jesus' love and that will change his ability to parent. 

And really, that is what it's all about.  Today, hit a little close to home for me with everything, but it is about the love of Jesus.  It's HIS love that covers our students when they test positive...it's HIS love that covers our families when they lose someone in death...and it's HIS love that leads parents to become role models for their children.  So, it will be HIS love that I dwell in tonight as I pray for the future of some of our kiddos and families.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Medical, Medical, Medical...and Mom!

It has been a busy week and it has been awhile since I've been able to post, so this one might be a long one, but I wanted to give everyone an update on what we've been up to these days!

My mom, Aunt Peggy, brother Oscar, friend's mom Cheryl, and fellow nurse Linda, all arrived ONE WEEK AGO today.  And we have been going, going, going since then! 

The first day (Tuesday) that they were there, we were able to just rest and plan for the remaining time that they were there in country.  It was a good time to just chat with my family and friends and get to enjoy time with them.  You know me...I'm a quality time person, so it was just so nice to get TIME with my loved ones!

The next day (Wednesday), we had to race to the airport as the majority of their checked baggage (except for Cheryl who came in on a different flight), and pick up the luggage (which is always a process here in Ghana--especially to pick up TWELVE boxes of supplies!), then rush back to the house to eat, sort through the items, and load back up for the clinic in Tema New Town.

We made it to 7 Continents by 1:30 or so and held a clinic for the mothers and children in the community there.  We saw over 60 people and it was very successful.  There were a lot of skin rashes, but the people were so happy with the treatment they recieved.

My mom, Cheryl, and a woman at the Tema New Town clinic

The next day (Thursday), we had an easy going morning, prepping for the Volta trip.  Then, we headed out to Dodowa for our tour of the West African Aids Foundation.  Unfortunately, the clinic was MUCH farther away than expected and we spent several hours in the car before finally making it there.  But everyone was glad to have seen the place and we were so happy that we got to see where our friend, Dr. Narh, works.  It is a great facility!

That night, the FTO group made it out to CORM and we ate dinner, debriefed about the upcoming trip to the Chimaroo land in the upper Volta Region, and went to bed early to sleep and prepare ourselves for the long trek ahead.

I was woken by Johnbull and loaded up on the bus.  I slept alright, except for the fact that my knees didn't have much room and got a little cramped along the ride.  Those ten hours are never easy!

When we arrived at the house in Benjamase (on Friday morning), we all rested a bit and then we got ready to head out on the lake to work on some child rescues.

Last time that John and Stacy passed through, they had done some negotiations with a couple different families to get their kids released to us, so this was the time when we have them sign over guardianship and release the children into their care.

When we got down to the lakeside, the fisherman who agreed to take us had gone away since it looked like a storm was brewing.  So, we all hung out with the kids for awhile, played, took pictures, and had fun waiting for the boat.
Oscar with the kids at Benjamase

Finally, a boat came and we crossed over the lake to Ada Kope which is where we previously rescued Abigail and DK in 2010 and have been working to see the rescue of several other children for the 2 years since that time.  
Stacy and I outside of AdaKope

Our goal was to rescue Samuel and his brother Kwesi.  Their father died many years ago and the mother remarried to a man who lived in AdaKope.  Frequently, when a mother remarries, the children from the previous marraige are used to help provide for the family while the new children from the new marraige are given opportunities for an education.  So, Stacy and John had negotiated for Samuel and Kwesi's release last month, and it was just a matter of signing paperwork.  When we arrived, Samuel was found playing football, but Kwesi was no where to be found.  They had hid him away from us.  So, we began paperwork for Samuel's release and then we got out our pillowcase dresses that we had brought for the little girls in the village.

We started putting the dresses on and then starting asking questions about two very frightened little girls that were sisters.  When we finally got to the bottom of the issue, they had been brought by the chief's wife just the week before along with a few other children and when we began negotiating release of those little girls, things started to get heated.  The wife got angry and an old man came forward telling us exactly what what was going on in the village--the children arriving, the people bringing them in, etc.  During the confusion, they took one of the scared little girls and hid her away.  So, when we bgan looking for her, they just laughed and wouldn't tell us where they put her.  In the end, we were able to bring Samuel with us (who we lovingly call Sammy), but we didn't get to bring anyone else home this time.  We are praying for FREEDOM over the lives of these girls and for Kwesi, that the next time we go up there, we can negotiate for release and we will see a better result.

After we left AdaKope, it had gotten dark, and then we headed to another village where they had negotiated release of one little boy named Edem Yow and when they entered the village, it was pitch black.  They went to the first lady they saw and asked where Edem was and before they knew it, she took off running and told the whole village that John and Stacy were coming and they hid all the children.  Even from the boat, where I was staying with the volunteers, we heard drums begin beating and I knew that they were experiencing some crazy-darkness (not only night, but DARKNESS). 

A man came out and told John and Stacy that there were 15 children hidden away in the houses, but everybody refused to release the children, especially Edem.  It was so frustrating.

When John and Stacy got back to the boat, John was so mad.  He told us the story and said that they were worshipping idols as they hid the children away.  Oh, there is SO MUCH to be done!

We returned home, ate, and talked, and then prepared for the next day medical clinic at the school.

The next day went so well.  My mom, Cheryl, Linda, and Aunt Peggy all did workshops for the people there about wound care, choking, burns, and Aunt Peggy did one on iodine.  She had done research about iodine in the Volta region and found out that 1 out of 3 people don't have iodine in their diet which causes birth defects, dwarfism, and goiters.  She was able to provide iodine for 100 people for ONE YEAR.  Amazing!

The clinic was amazingly successful!  We all worked so well together--overseeing the children, assessing medical needs, providing treatment, praying over each person, testing for HIV and HEP B.  In the end, we saw over 250 people! 

The trip home was a welcome relief for most as they were tired and worn out from all that we did in the Volta.  Today, everyone helped out at the school, the nurses completing workshops for all the classrooms on hygiene and nutrition.

I'm so happy that everyone is here.  It has been such a great experience for CORM!

Tomorrow is our school clinic.  Looking forward to it!

Monday, June 4, 2012

This is what it's all about...

Ale left on Thursday and Steve Peake came in on Friday and friends of ours, Mike and Rachel Collins, came and spent some time with us the past few days.  It has been this awesome flood of encouragement and familiar faces and such a joy.

And yesterday and today have just been a couple of those days where you realize what this is all about. 

Yesterday, we went back to the Laloyna area where we have been doing a lot of education to talk about human trafficking with families there and to investigate certain situations where children might be too vulnerable to trafficking and need rescued.  We'd planned this education in a village with a name I can't pronounce for quite a while and were surprised when we showed up that no one was there.  So, we waited for a little bit, and then got started with the few parents that were around.  Eventually, more and more people came around as John got started talking. 

When he finished talking to the families about the importance of education, the life of the children on Lake Volta, and the opportunities available to those that are educated, questions started popping up everywhere.  These men and women really thought through what John said, processing and wondering how to make this possible for their children.  One man wondered what else they could do to make sure their kids were enrolled in school when the monies for uniforms and exam fees aren't available due to poor fishing or salt fields that aren't producing.  Hard questions...  And what do we do about a boy who is 15 and refuses to attend school any longer?   How can you force someone to go to school when they don't want to any longer? 

And we don't have the answers to all of these questions.  We don't know what other things can be brought into those communities so that money can be provided for children to attend school.  We don't really have an answer to a child who refuses to go to school.  But, we know that God's dreams are bigger than what we even know and that these kids deserve more than what they're currently getting,

So, we interviewed families and heard story after story and we prayed for discernment on who should come and who should stay.  And we ended up bringing one little boy with us.

Benard is eight years old.  His front teeth still growing in and knobby knees, Benard spent 5 years on the lake until he was brought back to live with his sister when his parents died sometime last year.  He had been sent to the lake when he was 3.  You can still see the effects on his body...parasites in his belly, ringworm on his head and skin, and no schooling or language skills.  His sister came with us to see what he lives so she can come visit again.

After the education in that village, we headed back to Laloyna to pick up Rapheal, who we identified last week and wanted to pick up with us this week.

Rapheal is somewhere between 10 and 12 years old.  His parents moved to Cameroon and left him with his great-grandparents, his guardians all over 90 years old and one of them blind.  When we approached them about Rapheal, they said that he hadn't lived there in over six months.  He had been homeless, begging for food from local film crews filiming for a Ghana film somewhere down the ocean side.  But, he has happy to be coming with us yesterday, turning in his seat in our bus and giving me a thumbs up on the ride home.

And when I came over this morning to say hello to the kids, the best greeting to start my day was Rapheal's smile as he flew at me with a good morning hug.  And Benard's timid way, telling DK that it was the first time he had ever used a tooth brush.  And the joy I saw as they played football with the school kids during break.  And their goofy laughs as they looked at videos on Edgar's phone from earlier in the day.

This is what it's all about...

And then to come home from school today to find a little boy sleeping on Aunty Portia's back, baby Joel.  Just a year and three months, his parents both gone, his grandmother was unable to care for him any longer and some local friends brought him by to stay with us.

This is what it's all about...

The stress and loneliness and frustrations of working in this country can frequently get the better of me.  But, I have to realize...this freedom is what it is all about.  Where children can be children.  Where children get the opportunity of a future they never had before.  Where the option to be sold isn't something they have to worry about anymore.

This is what it's all about...

Thank you God that you are a God of Justice...