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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Monday, September 24, 2012

Faith Roots International Academy--Year 3 begins

School has started up again and it has been a couple of crazy weeks for me, settling into the overseeing of 16 teachers and 185 students.

I look back often and think of how far we have come.  It’s hard to even imagine that all this has happened so quickly.

I came here in July 2010 to be a tutor for their newly rescued children.  John and Stacy had told me that the children were enrolled in school, but struggled because of their very little previous school experience.

So, I came, with a handful of assessments and ideas of how to get these children up to grade level.

I didn’t know what I was in for.

I stepped off the plane and John and Stacy let me know that the kids wouldn't be returning to school that year, but we'd be starting our own. 

And then the dreaming began.  We talked a lot in the beginning about what we want the building to look like.  Stacy, our visualizer, drew rough sketches on scrap pieces of paper as we drove down the bumpy roads of Ghana.  Together, we came up with the name of the school, Faith Roots International Academy...rooted and established in love.  Ephesians 3:14-21 are the theme verses I've chosen for my life, and to see us come together to envision a school that will raise up children who can live fully in God's love and calling for their lives.

We recruited a couple of teachers and started up in our house in Tema, community 5.  I had 10 students crammed into my little room at the house and we struggled those first few months to understand one another.  Not only was there the challenge of understanding one another literally (our accents were so different from one another), but also the challenge of understanding a different way of instruction and learning.

I will never forget the day that Valentina, our tall Vale-girl, told me that if I wanted respect in the classroom, I would have to cane them all.  I explained to them that that would never happen.  They would have to learn to respect me for me...and not for the cane.  And...eventually they did.

That year was an adventure.  Overseeing teachers almost twice my age.  Overseeing students on many different grade levels (I had four different grade levels in my class of students).  Behavior problems.  And then, came our big move to Doryumu.  We all moved to ONE HOUSE...our staff, our children...all of us together.  40 people in one place.  It was a recipe for sleep-deprivation, that's for sure!

We had school in a little house down the road that we painted bright blue.  The building had no electricity and no water.  I didn't have a curriculum, but taught to each of the children's needs.  I But, I saw such growth that year.  All of my students grew by leaps and bounds, several grade levels ahead of where they were before.  And this past year, I saw even more growth.  I think that skills that were taught that first year, has brought about amazing success in their now-present classrooms.

The next year, we moved our school to our Children's Village.  No more blue school house.  No windows.  No doors.  But, an office.  Electricity eventually came.  Running water and toilets (though I sometimes didn't dare to use them after the children had paid their visit there throughout the day).  And we added students...100 more students from the community.  Which meant more teachers...and training.

So, last year, it was 121 students (the 1 was my Rosemary, who was doing her own class in my office all year long).  We had 8 teachers and I was busy trying to memorize all of the students names, create an environment of love and support for our students, and provide the training that was necessary for our teachers.

It seemed as if the obstacles were endless.  Parents and teachers alike were not used to the "no caning" policy in our school and I was challenged countless numbers of times by parents and staff desiring a more "disciplined" approach to education.  This arguement still continues.  It's a one step forward and two-steps back with this whole issue.

And then there came the overwhelming desire to be a part of what City of Refuge was doing on a daily basis and still needing to be here to oversee things as well.  Staff stepped out of their roles and into other roles in our school, which put our students in positions of being shamed in class and me in the position of constantly correcting staff.  Desiring to see staff who are so transformed by Christ that they look past the culture of Ghana and past my own personal culture and see that Culture of Christ that we want to instill in these children.  It doesn't come with shame and guilt and canes---but with a love that fearless.

And this year, yet again, we have expanded and things have changed and we are beginning to look more and more like a school and less and less like an uncompleted building.  We have added a whole wing to the school, seperated some double classes out, and added new classes to our school.  We have a few new teachers and a few returning teachers.  And now we see a staff of 16 teachers in and out of our school on a daily basis, teachers of different cultures and backgrounds working together to see that these children recieve the BEST that they can get.  We have 185 students on a daily basis come through our doors.

It has been incredibly busy for me...overseeing all of these things and trying to keep up with the exponential growth that is happening in this place!  Any given day, you would see me in a whole lot of roles---from holding crying little ones, to helping sub in a classroom, to discussing behavior, conducting interviews, helping with naptime, providing keys for our numerous doors (yes, we do have doors and windows in many of our classrooms now!), and a variety of other things.  It's hard to keep up with, but it is also good.

As I look ahead to this next year, there is a mantra that I keep repeating to myself.  "These children are the future of Ghana."  Every problem I run into with GES, or getting ripped off in the market, or dealing with dishonest people, or struggling to help teachers obtain the vision...I have to remember that these children are the future of Ghana.  They are going to be our next legislatures.  They are going to be the next assemblymen and women (like a mayor).  They will be in the eduction system, in the police departments, in the social welfare departments, in the courts.  They will be the leaders of the next generation and that is where my hope is stored.

Two weeks into our school year, I have already faced my share of tough challenges.  They continue to come and I realize that this job has less to do with overseeing the education of these children and more to do with developing people into an image of Christ.  And that is hard. 

It's not easy when the common response to illness is to take children to the shrine. 

It's not easy when children and families in our school face the HIV virus each and every day.

It's not easy when our girls, at 13 and 14 years of age, are being challenged to give up their education and start a family with any number of boys.

It's not easy when we look at our village and see and hear the same stories again and again...the story of the fatherless home.

There is so much to be done.

So, what does year 3 for Faith Roots hold?  It holds HOPE for the 185 children attending.  It holds the education of 35 children who wouldn't have had the option before.  It holds the key to a future...not just for the children, but for this country.

I'm continually overwhelmed at what this year might hold.  Everytime I look at what we do here, it seems so vast, but God is good...He will do what he wants with this place. 

So, here is to year 3 of Faith Roots and all that is in store for us here.


  1. You and all your work is so inspirational, Autumn! Thank you so much for your posts. I love reading them! Congratulations on a new school year and best of luck! I know it can be incredibly hard and discouraging at times but the way you just keep going and working towards the children's future is so important so so amazing. I hope to visit soon!

  2. Renewal of Spirit each year! Cling to the promise "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." and let Him strengthen you daily. You are awesome---Go,Girl!