Conor Grennan was just another one of those rich, thin kids who attended UVA Charlottesville. He figured three months volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal would make him interesting and a chick magnet, so he squeezed it in before spending the rest of his savings on a round-the-world trip.
Grennan went to work at Little Princes, named for the Antoine de Saint-Exupery book. Nepal at the time was in the midst of some serious and repeated coup-d-etat crap, but the rest of the world didn’t notice much, since they don’t have resources anyone else wants. Rebel armies were coming through mountain villages taking kids for soldiers or other purposes, so parents paid traffickers to escort their children to cities where they would be “safe, educated, fed, and cared for.” And of course the traffickers dumped them all over the place, with the result that “orphanages” for children with living parents back in the rural areas were springing up across the cities–for the luckier kids.
Grennan worked at a well-established children’s home, but he and his fellow staffers found a woman keeping seven children dumped on her by a trafficker, and that became the lynch pin that undid his previous happy-go-lucky life; those children were organized by the Little Princes staff to go into an established home, but the trafficker returned and whisked them away. Grennan took that personally. It’s one of those things we’ve all experienced about horrible events and statistics: numbers can be big and bad–so many dead, so many stolen–yet remote and tsk-tsk-ish until you know the names and faces of just a couple of people in that big picture. Then everything gets up close and in focus.
Grennan knew seven, so he created a non-profit, fundraised among his UVA friends, and went back to Nepal to track those young’uns down–and start a children’s charity that became orphanage-cum-reunification service. Along the way he meets a girl, converts to Christianity, and nearly dies in a mountain village.
It’s a very cool read, this book, but the thing I like most about it is Grennan’s straightforward telling of a story that could have been all about finding personal fulfillment, or the harrowing ordeals of working in Nepal. Instead this book has that boots-on-muddy-ground common sense feel, the read-between-the-lines restraint of someone who’s thought carefully about what happened, and isn’t going for the sensational thrill. He just wants you to understand the story inside The Story: those seven kids who were his responsibility, drowning in a sea of sad stories just like theirs, and how they led to Next Generation Nepal.
Reassuring, it is, to find that privileged kids in every generation aren’t just about discovering themselves striving for a personal best on a ski slope, but discovering and rectifying to the best of their ability the things going wrong around them. Go, kids, go!
You can visit Next Generation Nepal here: http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org/How_It_All_Began