Out of ashes comes new life and Lovetta Conto, who grew up in Ghanaian refugee camp, knows that better than most. She was only 18 months old when she fled her native Liberia with her father to escape its civil war. When she turned five, they reached Ghana, where she spent the next nine years living with with 47,000 other people. At 14, she left her father and moved to America as part of the Strongheart Fellowship Program. Now 17, Conto makes jewelry using the spent casings of bullets fired during the same civil war she escaped.
Despite a difficult upbringing that frequently included going without food and water, Conto always harbored aspirations of becoming a fashion designer. With help from the Austin-based Strongheart Foundation, notably founder Cori Stern, who spent two years getting her a U.S. visa, Conto is now designing her own line.
“Akawalle,” which translates into “also known as love,” uses spent bullet casings from the Liberian civil war.
Named “Akawelle,”, which translates to “also known as love,” Conto’s collection includes bullets that were used in Liberia during its civil war. The top of the bullet is is melted down and refashioned into a leaf-shaped pendant, which Conto engraves with the word “Life” to symbolize the promise of new life arising from even the worst hardship. The bullet’s bottom is filed and strung on a chain like a bead.
Proceeds from each necklace benefits the Strongheart House, a safe house in Robertsport, Liberia, for gifted youngsters from the developing world who are displaced by war or other circumstance. “I wanted to keep the memory of my people alive,” Conto says. “Everything I was doing, I had in the back of my mind ‘I can use this money to help the other people who are left behind: kids whose parents died in the war or kids who don’t have the opportunity I had.'”