NEW YORK, April 5, 2011 - As he told an audience here at the Asia Society, Conor Grennan's initial connection to Nepal was a reluctant one. He was living in Europe, about to return home to the US, when he decided to take a trip around the world, which would include volunteering at a Nepali orphanage.
"I didn't go out to Nepal for anything more than to impress people with the fact that I was going out to Nepal. As I told more and more people about it, I trapped myself into volunteering in Nepal, which was pretty much, I promise you, the last thing I wanted to do with my life."
He went to Nepal knowing little about the country or the culture. "I didn't know there was a civil war going on at the time, this was late 2004. I certainly didn't know anything about working with kids."
After three months working in an orphanage, Grennan promised the children he would return after he finished his trip around the world. When he did, a year later, the civil war in Nepal had gotten much worse, "but the kids were resilient; they were surviving."
At that time, Maoists had forcibly conscripted many children into their army. Parents were desperate to avoid that reality. In the northwest district of Humla, a child trafficker came to villages and tricked parents into believing that he would bring their children to Kathmandu to receive an education.
That's when Grennan began to realize that many of the "orphans" he had met were not in fact orphans. After the trafficker had collected money from the parents, many of the children were simply abandoned in Kathmandu.
Grennan started a small organization called Next Generation Nepal, and literally walked around villages with nothing but pictures to locate missing children and their families. "I did the simplest, and kind of the dumbest thing, I could do. But keep in mind nobody was doing this. I thought, what if I just take photos of the kids and go into the mountains? I know generally where they're from."
"I went in there and just put on a backpack, and hired some locals from the region, and literally just started walking through the mountains with photos of these kids. And one by one, we started to find the families."
Grennan continues to work with in Nepalese orphans, reuniting trafficked children with their families, and has documented his activities in the book Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. He was joined in conversation with Sanjeev Sherchan, Assistant Director of Policy Programs in the New York Public Programs department at the Asia Society.
Reported by Rachel Rosado