Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
“I could not think of a single thing I would have done differently over the past year, even over the past several years. Each of those things had led me to this moment --- to be walking back into a hospital that, in another life, I would have avoided like a structure fire. Returning to a ward that contained not even a single bar of soap, preparing to spend another night with two young boys whose language I did not speak, about to suggest some fantastically unsanitary food for dinner. This was where I belonged. That realization brought me immense comfort.”
Reviewing a book written by an author who has accomplished an extraordinary feat --- in this case, first rescuing dozens of Nepali children from human traffickers and uniting them with their families, then forming an international non-profit organization to carry out his work --- is no simple matter. For unlike authors of fiction, he must be “judged” according to his impact on the world and on how well he relays the story of his experiences. Otherwise, why would we pick up the book in the first place? It’s hard not to see immediately that both Grennan’s journey and his achievements are inspiring. But it’s also a relief to discover that in addition to conveying a fascinating tale of real-life adventure and touting Grennan’s passion for a noteworthy cause, LITTLE PRINCES showcases his winning sense of humor, immense humility and downright charm.
Part of what makes LITTLE PRINCES so valuable --- and different from some other do-gooder memoirs or travelogues of its ilk --- is Grennan’s willingness to be honest about his motives at every turn. No, he wasn’t planning on changing the world when he first conceived of the trip. In fact, his initial three-month stint at the Little Princes Children’s Home in Godawari, Nepal, was really just an excuse to quit his job at the East-West Institute in Prague in exchange for a solo year-long tour around the world (not to mention a tactic to impress women he met in bars). “Who would dare begrudge my year of fun after doing something like that?” he recalls. “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 someone who hates orphans.”’
See? Honest. Funny.
What’s more, when then-29-year-old Grennan arrived in decade-long civil war-torn Nepal in 2004, he wasn’t immediately invigorated by suddenly finding himself in a rough-and-tumble situation, nor was he even slightly prepared for what he would find there. A country under siege by Maoist rebels fighting against an oppressive royal Nepalese government. An impoverished population living in unsanitary conditions, without running water, toilets, or electricity. An entrenched child-trafficking scheme basically aided and abetted by both sides. No, in actuality, he was pretty freaked out. “What I wanted was to tell people I had volunteered in an orphanage. Now that I was actually here, the whole idea of my volunteering in this country seemed ludicrous.”
But the more you read of LITTLE PRINCES, the easier it is to see that Grennan --- maybe in spite of himself --- is a survivor, a thinker-on-his-feet, a person who knows a learning experience when he sees it and runs with it, and most of all, a realist. Yes, he bonded with the children at the home while he was there. Sure, he adjusted to “Nepali time” and simpler living. But he also recognized an invaluable truth about the situation before leaving Nepal for the first time: “The deeper sadness, the deluge of emotion, came from admitting I was walking out on them… Despite myself, I had become a parent to these kids --- not because I was qualified, but because I had showed up.”
Perhaps it was this simple epiphany that changed Grennan’s life and the lives of hundreds and (hopefully) soon-to-be thousands of Nepalese children.
Over the next three years, he would return to Nepal many times. After discovering that the children who lived at Little Princes weren’t orphans, but rather kids who were either stolen outright or donated to traffickers by parents hoping to protect them from being inducted into the Maoist rebel army, Grennan and Farid --- a friend and fellow volunteer --- vowed to do what they could to help reverse child trafficking in Nepal. Along with trusted guides, he (quite literally) hiked for days through the Himalayas to remote villages in order to track down parents. He formed an international nonprofit called Next Generation Nepal, an organization dedicated to reconnecting these trafficked kids with their communities. He partnered with another international organization, the Umbrella Foundation, to buy a home where newfound “orphans” could live fear-free. He shuttled back and forth between his rented apartment in Nepal and his apartment in New York so he could raise thousands of dollars for his cause. And most of all, he was a parent to these kids when they presumably didn’t have any.
All this from a guy who professed never to truly know what he was doing at any point in the game. When describing a particular fundraising party, he writes: “The fundraisers were the first moments I realized I was actually going to do this… We would search the hills and mountains of Nepal, in some of the most remote regions in the world, until we found the families of trafficked children. People clapped. I did not add that I might be completely full of crap.”
For all these reasons and more (maps! stunning photos!), LITTLE PRINCES is quite possibly one of the most impassioned yet straightforward true tales you’ll have the pleasure of reading. No need for a comparison to Greg Mortenson’s THREE CUPS OF TEA --- this one stands well on its own. Plus, if any of the above didn’t grab your attention, there’s something else to look forward to. Grennan falls in love, too.
For more information on Next Generation Nepal (and no, this plug wasn’t prompted by his publisher), check out www.nextgenerationnepal.org. After reading the book, you’ll want to find out more, I promise.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 25, 2011