At the age of twenty-nine, Conor Grennan left his job to travel around the world for a year. His plan was to spend a few months taking care of orphans in rural, war-torn Nepal. After that, party time. But the more time Grennan spent at the Little Princes Children’s Home, the more attached he began to feel to the young children who lived there. He was shocked when he eventually learned that many of the children weren’t orphans at all; their parents, desperate to spare their children from poverty and war, had paid huge fees to child traffickers to take their children away to safety and give them an education. Instead, the traffickers either sold the children into service positions or dumped them in the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
When Grennan’s yearlong trip was over, he found himself desperate to get back to Nepal to help the children. He founded his own NGO, Next Generation Nepal, and moved back to Nepal. He and his associate ultimately decided that the most effective way to help the children was to assemble a team and trek into some of the most isolated areas of Nepal to locate some of the children’s families and reestablish lines of communication; the last time any of the parents had seen their children was when they had paid the traffickers to take them away years before.
Although the subject–and that gorgeous cover–intrigued me, I was initially apprehensive about reading this memoir (is it just me, or does the subtitle scream Western Savior?). Sure enough, I was cringing through first couple of chapters as White Dude made his presence known in the small Nepalese village he’s been assigned to. Another problem I have with the subtitle is that gives the impression that Grennan single-handedly discovered the plight of trafficked Nepalese children and single-handedly tackled it head-on. He didn’t; there are plenty of foreign NGOs and Nepalese organizations working on the gargantuan cycle of issues related to child trafficking. Grennan had a team of support during all of these excursions in Nepal–he had to, seeing as how he didn’t even speak the language(s).
All that said, I quickly grew to love this book. Grennan quickly matures from bonehead frat dude into a thoughtful, empathetic man who is determined to back up his good intentions with actual action. He’s a talented and entertaining writer. But the true stars of the book are the children at Little Princes. Some of them went through horrible abuse before being rescued and have a lot to cope with, yet the children have been remarkably resilient in spite of the traumas of their past. They make do with what little they have and treasure the education they receive.
Once they get older, they children are in a unique position to help educate parents in rural communities and try and dissuade them from sending their kids off with traffickers (this is a difficult message to get across–to those parents, these educated, well-fed children are living proof that the traffickers kept their promise; in reality, the children have all miraculously survived in spite of being trafficked, rather than because of it) . One of the children actually does go on to do this when he’s old enough. The book doesn’t go too much into what the futures of these children are like, but it is clear that many of them want to continue their education so that they’re better equipped to help their villages.
Little Princes presents a lot of eye-opening information about the conditions that lead parents to send their children off with a stranger. One thing is clear: the causes and effects of child trafficking aren’t problems that one person–or, quite frankly, even one entire generation–can fix. The book is inspiring nonetheless. Despite some of my misgivings about how events are portrayed, Grennan’s remarkable actions should not be discounted. Without his tireless contributions, many of the children would have surely faced a cruel and uncertain future. It’s devastating to think about the thousands of Nepalese children who will never be rescued, but I’m incredibly happy for many of the children featured in this book.
Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal was originally released on January 25, 2011 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. It was re-released on December 27, 2011 in paperback.