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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Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I have been thinking a lot about the culture of shame here.

From the moment I stepped into Ghana, I have heard this common rhyme said to little children:

Shame, shame, SHAME...
A wild dog, woof woof
A pussycat, meow

It was meant to calm a crying baby, or to playfully let a small child know that what they were doing was wrong.

But, the other day, a missionary friend, Angie Doe told us about how one of her staff members had taught that to her daughters, and how her sweet daughter came to her in tears as a result. 

When I first arrived here in Ghana, I noticed the tendency to lean towards shame as a form of punishment.  I stayed away for it, for the most part, but the little phrases and mannerisms have snuck their way into my language.

Angie's story of her daughter convicted my heart.  As much as I have tried to avoid shame-based discipline in my school, I have also participated in it in some ways as I have learned to assimilate into the culture here in Ghana.

This week, I also read this article: http://www.brenebrown.com/my-blog/2013/3/20/meuitdwaubpgr9qt1xanm3fwwa0sjo, a commentary on shame-based advertisements that had been placed in New York.

It got me thinking...

Where did shame come from?  What is it's purpose? 

Genesis talks about Adam and Eve walking in the garden, naked, and they were not ashamed.  And then, sin came in and changed everything.  And with it, brought shame.  They were naked...their most vulnerable selves, and they became ashamed.

And my search through the Psalms showed me that shame frequently is paired with dishonor or disgrace, with disappointment and dismay.  And it is only referred to in regards to those who do not serve the Lord.

So, shame showed up in our world when sin showed up.  It showed up when vulnerability became a place of fear instead of one of safety.  It showed up, and along with it came some pretty negative friends, "dishonor", "disgrace", "disappointment", and "dismay".  And the thing is, it has NOTHING to do with the believer. 

In Romans, it says to, "rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts..." (Romans 5:3-5).

We are never to experience shame because God's love has been poured into our hearts.  When you experience the love of God, even in your most vulnerable moments, you should not be ashamed.

This is what I want to teach our children to treasure.  This is what I want our staff to understand.

At the beginning of the year, during our teacher training, we talked about this very issue.  Shame-based discipline verses positive discipline in the classroom.  I asked the teachers, "What do you think a student would respond to better..." and gave them two scenarios.  One scenario had to do with shaming a student for getting an incorrect answer.  Another scenario had to do with praising a student for getting at least part of an answer correct. 

All of the teachers responded that if a student was shamed, they would respond better.

And then I brought the same question to how they would best respond if I were to shame them in their teaching skills or encourage them.

All of the teachers responded that they would do better if encouraged, especially if incentives were provided based on their work.

When I discussed with them this concept for directing students, they struggled to understand and to apply this in their classrooms.

And the struggle continues. 

It is a daily battle against shame here.  To expect encouraging language from teachers who have never received it outside of this place or heard it done well in the classroom before.   To see students change from language that brings down to language that uplifts. 

And even more, to understand that shame has no place in God's kingdom.  Shame is a tool of the enemy to bring discouragement.  But God's love brings hope, not shame.  God's love casts out all fear.

I so desire that for our children.  I so desire that for our staff.  A deep-rooted understanding of Christ's love for them, His transformational love.  That even in their most vulnerable places, their places of greatest need, God still loves and doesn't bring shame, but HOPE.

It makes me think of the possibilities if this were to be acted out biblically here.  I look at some of our students, young girls who are now being given the opportunity of an education but struggle because of the YEARS that they have faced selling items on the street to help care for their family instead of being in a classroom learning fundamentals.  They have already seen too much of life.  Their confidence, on a scale of 1-10, well, it's a 1 (if even that).  If they were given encouragement, given a chance, given the gift of HOPE, perhaps we could see change.

Unfortunately, we battle against so much shame--a lifetime full of shame.  And there is no way to control what they hear at home either.  Even here at school, which is an environment where we try to limit the shame-based discipline as much as possible (as far as my eyes and ears can reach), we had to release a teacher who was slapping children's wrists because they had printed the date incorrectly on their paper.  Of course, it was commonly enforced upon the children who have missed years of schooling, have little literacy skills, and that low confidence.  How do we go from there?  How do we start over?  How do we rebuild?

And that is where I am at.  Trying to rebuild some of these kids that have been shamed so much, they have lost all hope of a positive future.  Trying to teach teachers of the hope of Christ, when sometimes the language of Christ doesn't seem to be understood.

So, let the conversation begin...what wisdom do you have to offer on changing shame-based discipline to positive reinforcement...the understanding that we are offering love instead of fear, grace instead of shame.


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