In Africa, everywhere you turn you are told, “It ain’t gonna happen”. But my dad would always say "Keep walking. Press on. It's going to happen." He was right.
When I was growing up in the refugee camp, life didn’t look like it was going anywhere for me or anybody else. But going through the war gave me my strength, and I knew it was not the end of my life. I envisioned myself as a tree growing up, growing fruit and giving my fruit to other people who needed help. My imagination saw me as more than I was. I knew I had to create a future for myself.
My dad taught me to believe in my dreams, even in the refugee camp. My dad worked hard to get money to support us and pay for my education because school is not free in most of Africa, not even in the refugee camp.
A lot of times we didn’t have food to eat before school. If we couldn’t pay my school fees, I would be kicked out of school, which happened sometimes no matter how hard my father worked to put the money together. After school I didn’t always get to do my homework until late because I would have to spend many hours fetching water for cooking and bathing. But I knew I had to get an education so I kept going. I had to prepare myself to go for my future.
When I was 12 years old, I met Cori Stern, the founder of Strongheart Fellowship, in the refugee camp where I lived. I was chosen as a Strongheart Fellow and my whole life changed.
Strongheart Fellowship is an organization for "young people of exceptional promise from extreme circumstances." We're aged 14 - 25 - and we're from all over the world - all from refugee camps or grew up in other very hard conditions. Some were child soldiers or child slaves. The name Strongheart is inspired by the quote: "The world breaks us all and after, some are stronger in the broken places."
Through Strongheart I've learned so much. I've started my own business - making jewelry made from bullets from the Liberian civil war - which helps other kids. I’ve become stronger in my own broken places. I am not ashamed of my past. It has made me who I am. It does hurt – sometimes I wonder why I was born into war and strife – but I always hold onto the strength I gained through my struggles.
Go to my website to learn more about me: www.akawelle.com
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