2007 speaker Lovetta Conto, a 15-year-old survivor of the Liberian civil war, fashions jewelry from civil war bullets to support other displaced children. Lovetta, who was one of five people shortlisted for the 2008 International Children's Peace Prize, knows firsthand the dangers faced by children.
Separated from her mother and country at the age of four during the Liberian conflict, she fled to Ghana with her father, where she lived for nine years with various families in refugee camps. There she worked with a team of American volunteers to build a school for unaccompanied minors, and further distinguished herself by advocating for special education for sight-impaired children.
Based on her demonstrated inner resilience and leadership aptitude, she was chosen to participate in The Strongheart Fellowshi as the inaugural Fellow. Through that program, she was required to create a "for benefit" business, a project that would combine commerce and compassion - benefiting herself, her peers, and her community.
Taking her cue from her love of fashion, Lovetta took spent bullet casings left behind from the Liberian civil war and transformed them into exquisite pieces of jewelry, creating a line she named AKAWELLE. Each piece includes a small leaf pendant made from melted bullet casings with the word "LIFE" imprinted on it to remind the world that "even after something as terrible as war, good can come and new life can begin." Profits from Lovetta's AKAWELLE jewelry line go to support other displaced young people through the development of Strongheart House, an international center for healing and learning for gifted and talented youth from the developing world.
Strongheart House, on the western coast of Africa in Liberia, is being built utilizing green technology, with a completion date set for late 2009. It will be completely off-grid and online. While living at Strongheart House, all of the young people - who come from challenging backgrounds such as slavery, war or extreme poverty - will participate in an innovative program that focuses on social entrepreneurship, leadership, and creative activism.
Lovetta has set a goal to sell 1500 pieces of jewelry in order to help open the house in time for the first group of six young people who are moving in from the refugee camp where she once lived. "The camp is closing and I want to help give them a beautiful place to live and grow." For Lovetta, it will be her first real home as well.