Like 16 year-olds everywhere, Lovetta Conto loves fashion. However, unlike many a typical teen, her love of fashion flourished in a refugee camp in Ghana, where she and her father had fled the brutal civil war in her native Liberia when she was just four. And now she is helping fellow young survivors with her for benefit accessories business: Akawelle jewelry (as in also known as - aka - wel'le, or love). Using the spent bullet casings that still liberally sprinkle the streets of Liberia, she melts the top half and molds it into a leaf-shaped pendant, leaving the bottom of the bullet as is. "This part is not melted down. I think it's important to have part of the actual bullet untouched, to remember what it was like before," explains the aspiring fashion designer. "I chose the word LIFE to be inscribed into the leaf to remind myself that new life can begin after hardship. It is even possible for new life to arise from something as terrible as war."
As part of The Strongheart Fellowship, a program for gifted youth in the developing world which focuses on entrepreneurship and activism, the money Lovetta raises through the sale of her jewelry will support other young people displaced by war through child slavery, abduction by rebel armies, orphaned by AIDS, and extreme poverty. A war-ravaged former beach hotel on the Liberian coast is currently being transformed into Strongheart House, an online but off-the-grid green haven designed to be an international center for healing and learning. Six of the young people moving in are from one of the refugee camps in Ghana where Lovetta lived for nine years. "The camp is closing and I want to help give them a beautiful place to live and grow."
Not surprisingly, Lovetta was recently nominated as a finalist in the 2008 International Children's Peace Prize, sponsored by the KidsRights Foundation, to be awarded next week by Desmond Tutu at the Hague.
To help Lovetta meet her current sales goal of 1500 pieces of jewelry in time for her fellow war survivors to move into Strongheart House in 2009, buy a lil' something for everyone you know at StrongheartFellowship.org/Akawelle.
- Lesley Scott
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