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MBA student, wife to build library

Mel Flanagan | Monday, December 5, 2011

Notre Dame MBA student Conor Evans and his wife Lauren always knew they wanted to use their engineering and construction talents to benefit others.

The Evans recently acted on their dream and partnered with Invisible Children, an international non-profit movement set on ending conflict and children soldiering in Uganda, to build a library for the Lacor Secondary School in Gulu, Uganda. They are calling the initiative the 31 Lengths Campaign.

“The main thrust of the project is to get out there using our individual talents and passions in life, our own skills, to do good in the world in a sustainable manner, as opposed to charity, which is walked away from,” Conor Evans said.

Lauren Evans said the two began researching non-profit organizations about a year ago, looking for a partner whose mission matched theirs. They settled on Invisible Children, a movement that began in 2003 when three filmmakers from Southern California created a documentary about the conflict in Uganda.

The library will attempt to move Uganda toward a business-centered economy, rather than an agrarian-centered one, beginning with its children, Conor Evans said.

“All of the library functions are designed so the library is sustainable,” he said. “The lasting impact is to be an incubator to promote commerce to stabilize the region.”

Rainfall in Uganda is predicted to decrease 24 percent over the next 80 years, Conor Evans said, a fact that greatly increases the probability of civil war in the country.

“If we can educate them and create commerce to where they are not as reliant on agriculture for their livelihoods, that is the end goal of the mission,” he said.

While local contractors and workers designed and will build the library, the 31 Lengths Campaign will assist in other ways.

“Conor and I and our team are there to raise the funds,” Lauren Evans said. “Also, the Invisible Children engineering staff asked if we would train them in Western building practices. I’m creating a curriculum for classes such as concrete cracking issues and safety.”

The campaign is currently focusing on fundraising. In order to raise the $90,000 needed for the project, the team is taking a pyramid approach, which involves goals of a certain number of people donating a certain amount of money each.

“It’s a mix of speaking to both enough people and a few really big [donations],” Conor Evans said.

Sophomore Emily Mediate, leader of the undergraduate involvement branch of the project, said there are numerous ways for students to participate with the project.

“What we’re really looking for now is awareness of the issues going on in Uganda,” Mediate said. “We want people to start dialogue about it, start thinking about it and start having it on their radar.”

Mediate said she is looking to partner with student government’s Social Concerns committee to hold a fundraiser.

“We talked about hosting events in dorms, maybe some kind of dorm competition, but definitely having representatives interested in the project present on the issues going on and the larger picture and how they can get involved in Africa or Uganda,” she said.

Mediate said students are also welcome to become involved in other aspects of the project.

“A lot of Notre Dame students want to both get experience in their fields and make an impact,” she said. “And this is a wonderful way to do that.”

Lauren Evans said undergraduates can get involved in other branches of the project, too. These include library construction, engineer staff training, fundraising, library program development, economic development consulting and art.

“If they are Education majors and they want to help me create a curriculum to train the engineering staff, they are absolutely welcome,” Lauren Evans said. “If they are geared toward business and marketing, we can use them too.”