Let me admit upfront that I have a bias about books or programs or movements that aim to “fix” another culture. I’ve learned from hard experience that lasting change tends to come from within people and within the society around them. But there are exceptions. Like Conor Grennan and his organization Next Generation Nepal.
Grennan didn’t start out planning to change anything. With disarmingly self-effacing humor, he explains in Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal that he decided to launch a year’s travel around with world with a volunteer stint at a Nepalese orphanage. The choice would surely make him seem irresistible to women, he figured, and besides, it was his ticket to indulge himself the rest of the year. As he writes,
“If I caught any flak for my decision to travel, I would have a devastating comeback ready, like: ‘Well frankly Mom, I didn’t peg you for somebody who hates orphans,’ and I would make sure to say the word orphans really loudly so everybody within earshot knew how selfless I was.”
Grennan came to Nepal having no experience with kids. His expectations of sad orphans hardly prepared him for the exuberant, friendly, and highly personable kids in his care. Even though these children had ever-changing adult caretakers and had suffered traumatizing life experiences, their resilience and good humor continued to surprise him.
What surprised him even more? The discovery that these children were not orphans at all. They had been born in remote villages where their families endured the ravages of civil war. Afraid that their children would be conscripted by the rebel army, their parents paid exorbitant fees to have them brought to safe boarding schools in the city. These parents didn’t realize they’d been duped by the empty promises of child traffickers. Their children were instead sold into slavery or abandoned on the streets of Kathmandu.
Grennan made it his mission to find these families and reunite them with their children. His story is one of frustration, struggle, and hard won awareness. It’s a journey lit by the extraordinary personalities of children who know misery and choose joy.