Author tells students about volunteerism, Nepal and the horrors of human trafficking
Conor Grennan, author of the book “Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal,” visited the Florham Campus to discuss his book and the experiences that led him to write it. The event was hosted in the Twombly Lounge on April 14 by Becton College, the College Writing Program and Campus Life.
Kenneth Sammond, senior lecturer in English, briefly introduced Grennan, whose book has been used in the English Writing classes over the semester. Shortly after, Grennan came forward and went more in-depth about his work experience.
Grennan is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the NYU Stern School of Business. He spent some time working at the EastWest Institute, about six-and-a-half years in Prague and another year-and-a-half at the EU Office in Brussels.
Grennan was in no way trying to act modestly about his accomplishments. He even apologized to the people who were “required to read this [book] for class,” saying that he wouldn’t even want to read it just from looking at the title. He was not shy about admitting to the audience that his main reason for volunteering was not to fulfill some long-time goal of his or to feel good about himself by doing good for others.
It was in 2004 that he left Brussels and decided to go away on a round-the-world trip to several different countries, the first of them being Nepal. Being young and self-involved, swearing that he “would never get married or get a mortgage,” Grennan said he saved up enough money to travel and just see the world.
“I didn’t go out to Nepal to really even volunteer,” he said. It was only by accident, while trying to impress a girl he wanted to date, that he got himself involved in volunteering at the Little Princes Children’s Home in the village of Godawari, Nepal, for two-and-a-half-months.
Upon arriving at the orphanage, Grennan said he was unsure about what it meant to volunteer or what an orphanage was going to be like, saying that his basic knowledge really only was through commercials made by foundations like UNICEF.
While Grennan was very comical and lighthearted when it came to describing his experiences in Nepal, a lot of the surrounding subject matter in his discussions was quite serious.
One aspect he talked about was the cultural differences between him and the children he met at the orphanage.
One example he gave was when some of the children asked him what his favorite food from America was, to which he responded by saying, “a hamburger.” The Nepalese children, who did not understand what a hamburger or even beef was because of the basic food they ate every day, asked what food and he explained it was the meat from a cow. Unfortunately, he learned the hard way through the looks of horror on their faces that the cow is a sacred animal in their religion, which made it even more difficult to connect with the children.
Another example was, when trying to relate better with the boys and girls, he gave each of them a Matchbox car.
However, instead of seeing them interact the way he would have as a child with a toy car, they ended up throwing these gifts against the walls and playing with their own makeshift toy cars, made out of basic “junk” found on the ground. He also noted that, while getting involved with the life of the village, he noticed how the women worked hard while the men “just kind of sat around.”
With little hiccups along the way, Grennan said he “grew to love” and care deeply about the children he met at the orphanage.
He mentioned one moment in particular when, while walking along with the children through the village back to their home, they met a stray dog on the street. While the boys were excited and gave the dog lots of affection, when the children went into the orphanage and Grennan followed behind, the same dog attacked him.
Not wanting to scare or upset the children, Grennan lied at first about getting attacked.
The children later found out and teased him mercilessly, but Grennan said this was one of his fonder moments because he loved “getting to joke around with the kids.”
He became so attached that, after his round-the-world trip had ended, he returned to Nepal in 2006.
Grennan then talked about how while all of this was going on, Nepal was going through a civil war. People had separated into the Communists, known as Maoists, and those who were still loyal to the king.
During the conflicts of this war, children were being kidnapped by Maoists who then sold them into domestic slavery.
One man in particular, whom Grennan named Golka, was making a lot of money by getting parents to sell their land and assets in order for him to take their children to the Kathmandu valley and give them an education.
A few of the children who were sold by Golka were in the orphanage where Grennan was volunteering. They were eventually found by their long-lost mother, who was also taking care of seven other children because of the trafficker Golka.
Grennan then set up a plan to help those children find their families, but as he was leaving to go back the United States, Nepal entered into a violent revolution, which led to the human trafficker taking the kids before they were able to get home.
Grennan found out through email what had happened to the seven children and said he “couldn’t live with himself,” if he did not try and help to find them.
“It was out of guilt, pure guilt,” he said, but he made his way back to Nepal as soon as he could.
This guilt, however, not only led him to return to Nepal and the orphanage, but it also led him to create the non-profit organization Next Generation Nepal to help other children taken from their families to get back to their homes.
It took over four days of trekking through rough terrain and battle-worn territory until all seven children were found.
Throughout the discussion at FDU, Grennan kept saying that he was not some hero and he had not planned on creating the non-profit or even writing the book taken from journal/blog entries. He did not want people to think that it was his dream to save all these children, but that it was something he knew he had to do.
During the question-and-answer session after his main discussion, Grennan advised people in the audience to not “let people tell you to volunteer.”
“You should volunteer, whatever gets you off the couch,” he said, but do it if it is for a cause you believe in and because it’s great on a resume.