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. In autumn 1984, 26-year-old Attwood and her husband, Ric, embarked on a monthlong trek through Nepal. There, they met a guide named Ram Karki and attended a Nepali festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters. Attwood stood in for Karki’s sister.
“At that time, we became godbrother and godsister,” Karki recalls. Since then, Karki and Attwood have stayed close. Their bond inspired Attwood to do what she could to help people in Nepal. Besides starting a fair-trade company called Ganesh Himal Trading, she opened a nonprofit called the Conscious Connections Foundation to build schools for Nepali girls.
Within 10 days of the quake, the Conscious Connections Foundation wired $1,600 to Karki to buy food, tents and other supplies that could be distributed to some of Nepal’s hardest-hit regions. In the past two years, CCF has provided $130,000 for relief efforts.
Attwood, who never practiced law, is quick to credit her UW law education for making possible her work in Nepal. “If I had gone into law, I would be doing the same thing that I’m doing right now. Because it’s about trying to dig deeper into what really serves people,” she says. “What law school allowed me to do was say, ‘OK, how do I take what could be and make it happen?’”