Monday, December 28, 2009


In an effort to find handmade items that give back, I found this wonderful article in the O Magazine about a girl (now 16-year-0ld, Lovetta Conto) who after being sent to a refugee camp in Ghana during the Liberian civil war in 1997, was chosen to be a part of the Stongheart Fellowship. Through this entrepreneurial group, she created her jewelry line Akawelle, made from discarded Liberian bullet shells.


Lovetta, now 17, spent a decade in the Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana, home to 47,000 people, mostly Liberians fleeing their country's civil war and its aftermath. "I often went hungry, and there was no clean drinking water," she says. "Girls were selling themselves to survive, and there was a lot of rape." But three years ago, Lovetta's talents had a chance to bloom: She was granted a Strongheart Fellowship, under a Liberian program designed to help gifted young people who have been orphaned or uprooted by war create businesses to benefit their communities. Today she designs Akawelle (the name is a combination of aka, for "also known as," and wel'le, the word for "love" in Kpelle, Lovetta's tribal language), a line of delicate jewelry made from the spent bullets of her country's war. Half of all profits from the sale of the jewelry goes to the Strongheart House, a home in Robertsport, Liberia, for displaced children and other Strongheart fellows. Lovetta herself was displaced when she was only 8 months old: After rebels attacked, she and her father, Larry, fled their town in central Liberia (her mother was out at the time, and Larry assumed she had been killed). "We walked for one week," he says. "We crossed rebel territory, slept in the bush. If I saw a breastfeeding mother, I would appeal to her to please give Lovetta milk."After years of moving to escape the fighting, they settled at Buduburam. Lovetta lived with other families while her father looked for work. Cori Stern, founder of the Strongheart Fellowship, met Lovetta when she was just 12 and remembers how self-assured she was, even then. When officials said there was no need to build a school for disabled students because there were none in the camp, "Lovetta said, 'No—my best friend is blind, and they won't let him go to school because he can't see,'" Stern recalls. "The men did not like having a little girl go against what they were saying." Stern brought Lovetta to the United States in 2006 to attend school. In Buduburam, Lovetta's schooling had been sporadic, and she did not learn to read until 2007 (despite the late start, she finished the entire Twilight series in six weeks). Still, the visit to the United States was bittersweet. Lovetta was shocked to see homeless people in a country of such abundance and thought it unfair that some should have so much while others had so little. She also couldn't understand why Americans did not do more to help her country's refugees: "It made me angry that this whole world was here when I was in my darkest moment, and no one came to help."


By turning bullets into things of beauty, Lovetta is doing her part to help. Since 2007 Akawelle has sold more than 400 necklaces and raised almost $20,000. Lovetta has also spoken at schools across the United States, and her necklaces have attracted fans like Halle Berry and Angelina Jolie. "I wear one, and my kids have her necklaces, too," says Jolie. "It was an opportunity to teach them about remarkable people like Lovetta, and pass on her message of love and tolerance." Lovetta also wants her message to be one of hope: "I believe that whatever you go through, there is always new life, a new beginning. So even a bullet that has killed someone can be the same one to help a new generation."

Bullet Picture

Handcrafted, the leaf pendant is made from melted bullet shells, the part that is left over after the bullet is fired. The bead is the actual bottom of the bullet shell. 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. Men and women can both wear the bullet and leaf. It’s strong – I hope they remind each person who wears them that no matter what they’ve been through, they can rise.


How amazing is her story? She speaks to every person who has been through things that could break them. She proves that you can rise above. She is a beacon of light, a beautiful warm embrace. I plan to purchase a necklace today and urge you to do the same.

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