Sometimes, life throws you a curve. Sometimes, what’s in the way is the way. Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do. All of these clichés hold a grain of truth, and all apply to the life of Conor Grennan, an Irish/American who started out on a journey in 2004 that changed him and affected the lives of many others
- many of them children.
Taking a rather lackadaisical approach to life, Grennan, then living in Europe, set out on a
'round-the-world tour with one small salve to his conscience: he committed to working in a Nepalese orphanage for the first three months. The orphanage housed mostly boys, and Conor had a great time being their pal as he learned something of the complex culture and history of a country that was just recovering from a civil war.
Then he learned something about these kids: they were all the victims of a child trafficker who had taken them from their homes in a remote region of the country. Some had been orphaned by the war but others were not, taken away with the promise to their parents that they would receive special treatment, excellent education, that they would be safe from the ravages of the conflict. Then he sold the boys out to do hard labor in the city, forcing them to beg for whatever food they could scrounge. His operation was discovered by tourists and he used this, too, to his advantage, operating an ersatz orphanage, clothing and feeding the boys with expatriate funds; but the better treatment always dried up when the foreigners went home. Once Grennan learned about this, his undirected roaming took on a different meaning. He writes,
“It was my first glimpse into just how resilient these kids really were. Beneath the showing off, the sulking, the hilarity, there must be an imprint of the terrors they had lived through in Humla – the killings, the child abductions by a rebel army, the starvation.”
After his travels, Grennan returned to Nepal and the orphanage, determined to reunite the children who had families with their parents far away. In a saga made worse by the author’s incessant knee pain, he and a companion from the orphanage trekked into the wild lands of Nepal where most of the children had come from, a region where the natives wear nose rings and herd goats. Battling pain on steep up-and-down slopes and inching along narrow roads with hundred-foot drops on one side, Grennan and his party finally made it to the home villages of some of the children.
In poignant scenes, parents immediately recognized the photos of their children, even after a lapse of many years, and wept with sorrow and humiliation. Some of them feared that Grennan had come to bully them in order to exact better treatment for the children. He learned slowly how to speak to these grieving families, to make it clear that they had done wrong by letting their children go but to respect their motivations and work towards the promised reunification. But he also had to learn that reuniting the families was more complex than he at first imagined and would involve a longer-term process. Ultimately, he founded Next Generation Nepal, devoting his energies to reconnecting the victims of trafficking to their families.
Grennan writes about his adventures in an enjoyable, breezy style that no
doubt characterized his attitudes when he was younger and experiencing this
remarkable transformation. He continues to work for the orphans of Nepal and has
a website that explains this mission