By Zoë Adams, New York
A 16-year-old Liberian, Lovetta Conto, who was recently honored as one of two top world finalists for the 2008 International Children’s Peace Prize has embarked on a speaking tour of the United States.
While in the United States, she will be speaking at schools, radio stations, and in the print media about her experiences as a refugee in Buduburam, Ghana, her hopes to “uplift Liberia”, and her excitement about the future of her country. Her tour includes New York, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, Illinois, and California.
The International Children’s Peace Prize, an initiative of the Kids Rights Foundation with the support of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, is awarded annually to an exceptional child who has
demonstrated great courage or remarkable actions to help protect and improve the lives of children who face great risks or injustices. The final prize was given by Noble Peace Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu on December 4, 2008 in a ceremony at the Ridderzaal in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Miss Conto was nominated through her work with Strongheart Fellowship, a nongovernmental organization that will soon be working on the ground in Liberia.
“Lovetta has worked so very hard for this honor, struggling through many difficulties to reach for something better for herself and others. She has proved that no matter where you come from or how dire the circumstances appear, if you can imagine a larger life for yourself and work tirelessly, you can achieve your goals,” commented Cori Stern, co-founder of Strongheart
Fellowship, the organization which works with Miss Conto and other gifted youth from developing nations.
Miss Conto knows firsthand the needs of children caught in conflict. Born in Bong County in 1992, in Liberia, she fled to Ghana with her father at the age of four where she lived in Buduburam Refugee Settlement. 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. She developed a special friendship with a sight impaired boy named Fizgeral Bedell, who left the camp but left a deep impression on Miss Conto.
Based on her demonstrated inner resilience and leadership aptitude, Miss Conto was chosen to participate in The Strongheart Fellowship program for bright, resilient young people from the developing world, as the inaugural Fellow. As part of that opportunity, she attended school in
the United States at the prestigious New Roads School in Los Angeles, California and St. Andrews Episcopal Upper School in Austin, Texas. As part of her fellowship, she studied entrepreneurship and started a “for benefit” business to help herself, her peers, and her community.
While living and traveling in the US, she has already spoken at many public events and in
the media sharing her life story and speaking about the issues faced by youth in conflict and post-conflict regions. Additionally she was the Liberian representative to the Global Youth Summit, a peace summit for youth from all over the world.
In June 2008, Miss Conto was featured as one of four young panelists at a very prestigious event at the world renowned Aspen Institute in the United States. Entitled “Against All Odds: Profiles in Resiliency,” the Bezos Scholars Program event was moderated by Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Deavere Smith. It attracted a sold-out crowd that offered two standing ovations. In October 2007, Miss Conto was an honored speaker at the Texas Governor’s Women’s Conference where her speech received a standing ovation.
Following her fellowship residency in the US, she returned to Liberia where she has plans to launch a youth fashion & lifestyle magazine called NEW FACES, focusing on offering a fresh perspective through articles of interest to Liberia’s youth. She is a proud student at Lott Carey Baptist Mission School in Liberia.
As a Strongheart Fellow, Miss Conto will be moving into Strongheart House, an international center for healing and learning for gifted youth from the developing world, with plans to be located in Liberia in 2009. Eventually the plans are to open a larger center, which will include a program called Strongheart Institute with open enrollment for the entire community, regardless of age.
“Strongheart Institute will host elders, historians, global thought leaders, social entrepreneurs, forward-thinking business people, and creative activists as teachers in a variety of ongoing workshops and symposiums,” said Zoë Adams, Executive Director of The Strongheart Group.
“Strongheart Institute will extend to many people the same opportunities Lovetta has received to learn about wider resources and innovations available to us all, while also encouraging each individual to develop a deeply rooted appreciation for their own and others’ history and culture. Classes and workshops in the planning stages include a photography exhibit of portraits of elders taken by Institute students, as well as courses ranging from history to innovative building methods from locally sourced materials to effective techniques for post-traumatic emotional healing. Our program is designed to assist individuals to create their own exit strategy from poverty and transform into their full potential through a combination of exposure to innovative ideas, access to resources, active participation in their own solution, and hard work.”
Strongheart House and Strongheart Institute are projects of The Strongheart Group.
About The Strongheart Group
The Strongheart Group brings together people, ideas, and resources to create rapid, sustainable, and positive change, in order to radically transform individual lives and strengthen the fabric of humanity. www.strongheartfellowship.org