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Students work with Nepali artisans

Anna Boarini | Sunday, November 14, 2010

Eleven years ago, industrial design professor Ann-Marie Conrado decided to leave the corporate grind and travel the world.

“I started out in St. Petersburg and a year later I ended up in Hong Kong,” Conrado said.

The country that stuck with her the most, however, was Nepal. After Conrado’s trip around the world, she returned to Nepal to teach English for six months.

“After teaching [in Nepal], I was frustrated by the education system. Students there are naturally resourceful and their education beats it out of them,” Conrado said.

Conrado decided she needed to do more than just teach English and in 2004, she started Hope Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to educational reform in Nepal.

So far, Hope Initiative has opened a computer technology center, where Nepali people can teach themselves how to operate and use computer technology. Hope Initiative also operates an orphanage where 10 children currently live.

Since Conrado joined the design faculty at Notre Dame, she brought her passion for Nepal to the University and shared it with her students.

“I wanted a way to combine the values we cherish in the classroom and bring them into the field,” Conrado said.

With that vision, Conrado decided to combine the work of her charity with her passion for design. Now, every summer, a group of Notre Dame students spend 10 weeks working with local designers and becoming immersed in Nepal’s culture.

Senior Andrew McBride traveled to Nepal last summer and hopes to return again.

“It was awesome,” McBride said. “The coolest part for me was there, they all refer to each other as brother and sister. Everyone in the community is like a member of an extended family.”

The students and Conrado spend their time in Nepal helping local artisans work on designing new fair trade products that they can sell.

In Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, local low-income artisans work to create hand-crafted goods that are indigenous to the region.

The artisans, 89 percent of which are women, work for the Association for Craft Producers, which is in charge of quality control. They produce all the raw materials and finish the products to give them uniformity, Conrado said.

“It brings grassroots producers to the global market,” Conrado said.

The Notre Dame students use their design background to work with local artisans to develop new products. They can design, prototype and produce a product in one location.

“I want to change the students prospective,” Conrado said. “It’s not about changing the world of design, but about changing the design of the world.”

Hope Initiative will host a sale this week in the LaFortune Student Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every day. Students designed many of the products being sold and all the proceeds will go toward ongoing projects in Nepal.