In the News

Law school grad stays connected to the people of Nepal from her Spokane home

 BY ELI FRANCOVICH
from The University of Washington Alum School Magazine
JUNE  2017

It was 3:30 in the morning on April 25, 2015 when Denise Attwood’s phone rang. She was sound asleep in her Spokane home. Jarred awake, she learned that Nepal, one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries, had been devastated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

More than 8,000 people were killed and another 20,000 injured. A medical clinic that Attwood, ’88, had helped build was leveled by an avalanche of mud and boulders loosened from the world’s steepest mountain range. The quake was so powerful it lifted Kathmandu, the country’s capital city, three feet. Sitting in her darkened bedroom 7,000 miles away, Attwood was stunned. Then she got busy. After all, it was her desire to help the world’s most vulnerable people that led her to apply to the UW School of Law in the first place three decades ago.

Attwood, who filled out her law school application while on a boat between Hong Kong and Shanghai, had altruistic intentions. But she had no idea what she was in for after graduation. She recalls an incident when she worked for the Legal Action Center in Seattle. One of her clients, recently released from a mental institution, had run up enormous credit card debt. The woman was “totally delusional” and shouldn’t have been living alone, Attwood recalls. “People would come in with these gaping wounds, and I didn’t even have a full-size Band-Aid,” she says. “I just had a little tiny one.”

At the same time, other forces began pushing Attwood toward Nepal.

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Throwing their Hearts into Business

BY FRANCES BADGETT
from Western Washington University Magazine
JULY 2017

Denise Attwood (’83) and Ric Conner (’85) were on a trek in Nepal 30 years ago when they bought two sweaters that changed their lives: The family who made them, Tibetan refugees, asked Attwood and Conner to help them sell sweaters in the U.S.

“Ric is a great entrepreneur and I’m a social justice nut,” says Attwood, who met Conner at a Huxley College potluck. Those two sweaters opened up a whole world of talented, hard-working craftspeople in one of the poorest regions in the world.

A few thousand sweaters later, they started Ganesh Himal Trading, LLC, to sell goods from Nepal in stores across the U.S. and Canada. Ganesh Himal Trading has since expanded into paper goods, baskets and other products.

Respect for people and the planet

When Attwood and Conner started, very few people were versed in the practice of fair trade, which encompasses respect for the environment, long-term relationships and livable wages for the producers, and financial support of the region. Today, Ganesh Himal Trading employs hundreds of Nepali and Tibetan craft producers.

“It’s only been 30 years and look at how conscious consumers are today,” Attwood says. “And it makes a huge difference. We see the change in the producers’ lives. We’ve seen families send their daughters to get masters degrees.”

Building Ganesh Himal offered another opportunity to Attwood and Conner to make a difference—the Baseri Health Clinic. On their first trek to Nepal, Attwood and Conner had met a 14-year-old girl, Sita Gurung. Eight years later in the Bangkok airport, the couple reunited with Gurung in a chance encounter.

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