The Missing Link
When seven kids at a Nepali orphanage disappear, a volunteer decides it’s time to put love into action, writes JANET TAY
I OFTEN GRUMBLE about the low water pressure in my apartment and the numerous filters needed to make the water clean enough for use. It is easy to take running water for granted, as we do electricity and other urban amenities. When you live in the city, it seems inconceivable that there might be places with no running water or proper toilets, much less broadband connection and public transportation.
It took a book by American volunteer Conor Grennan, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, for me to learn about that country’s problems and not to take for granted the privilege of having basic everyday necessities.
In Nepal, there are some villages so steeped in poverty that they do not have clean water and adequate sanitation, where the nearest clinics or medical facilities are miles away. As if life was not hard enough, the country was stricken by civil war between the government and Maoist (the Communist Party of Nepal) rebels from 1996 to 2006, resulting in more than 10,000 people killed and displaced. During those trying times, some desperate villagers let their children leave with strangers who promised them a better future. Amidst the chaos of war and poverty, there were those who took advantage of the situation and kidnapped the children for trafficking.
Grennan hopes his book will make the world more aware of Nepal’s problems.
Grennan was born and raised in a peaceful suburb of New York City and moved to New Jersey when he was 10. Growing up in a very poor and dangerous urban neighbourhood taught him resilience, which perhaps contributed to his determination and success in Nepal. “I have always wanted to be in government—not as a politician, but as somebody who helped the process, who learned about the issues that would affect people, and try to make the best decisions possible for everyone else,” he says.
He never thought his time at Little Princes, the Nepalese orphanage where he volunteered, would result in Next Generation Nepal (NGN), an organisation he set up to provide temporary care and education for trafficked children, and also to try reunite them with their families. “I knew that I loved the kids and wanted to help, but I never thought I could make a difference. But when seven children disappeared, I realised that I was maybe the only one who could save them. That’s how it all began,” he explains.
Grennan’s book details his journey to Little Princes, his daring rescue of trafficked children and the subsequent formation of NGN (nextgenerationnepal.com). His great sense of humour is reflected in his style of writing as well as how he communicates with the children. “The truth is that working with them is pretty hilarious, because kids around the world are naturally funny. I wanted to make sure that made it into the story, that you could hear the children’s voices come through because they make each day possible.”
Grennan is very aware that these are not your typical Western kids and is careful with how he and his organisation works with them. “Kids are so impressionable, so if we come in with our own ideas about what their culture should be like, or what their needs should be, we risk having a less than positive impact on these young lives. We have to remember we are not just helping, we are taking the place—at least temporarily—of parents,” he says.
Little Princes describes Grennan’s many close shaves, but he thinks Nepal is safer now. “The traffickers themselves do not threaten us as they used to. I definitely got lucky a few times when I was in the mountains searching for families.”
He hopes the book will make the world more aware of Nepal and its problems. “It is not a part of the world we know much about. We don’t hear much about this type of child trafficking. I want to raise awareness of the work we are doing with NGN.”
Now a father himself—he met his wife Liz while volunteering at Little Princes—Grennan finds even more meaning in his work. “For the first time I really understand there is a large group of people out there, children, who need help. I think of these kids as I think of my son—if he was in danger, how desperate would I be to have somebody with resources step in and help? Now, I am that person who can help. That changes everything.”
For those who are thinking about volunteering, he has this advice: “Just try to get to know the children, what really drives them, what their dreams are, how they see life. You can change their lives for the better, and they will change you too.”
Reproduced from The Sunday Star of April 24, 2011