Thursday, February 3, 2011

Adorable little princes (and princesses!)

Conor Grennan portrays himself as something of a slacker in the book Little Princes. After graduating from college and working in Europe for a while, he decides to spend a year traveling around the world. Nearing the end of his trip, he imagines the wonderful bragging rights he'll gain if he spends a few months volunteering with orphans in Nepal. He plays out scenes in his head in which rapt audiences of friends and family are regaled with stories of his selflessness and generosity of spirit. In other words, he had no idea what the project would involve.


In 2004 he arrives at the Little Princes orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal to spend 2 months volunteering. At the time, there was a civil war going on in the country between forces loyal to the king and Maoist rebels. This made travel and other situations in the country unpredictable and dangerous.


Conor soon realizes that he is out of his depth with the children. He has no experience in dealing with small people, and no idea of how to pass the time. There were 18 children there when he arrived. The children were very friendly, running out to jump on him as he walked up the path to the building. He soon grew accustomed to their exuberance and was even able to tell them apart after a while!


Conor leaves the country to continue his travels after his 2 months are up, but by that time he is interested in returning to visit the children again. While doing his second tour of duty at the orphanage, he makes a horrifying discovery: most of the children aren't orphans. When the war broke out, child traffickers moved in to rural areas and offered to take the children to schools in the city where they would be safe and receive an education. Many impoverished parents sold what few possessions they had to send their children into safety. Little did they realize that the traffickers often abandoned the children, and that they would most likely never see their children again. The children at the Little Princes home are taken care of and go to school, but Conor and his fellow volunteers soon discover 7 additional children who have been abandoned in the capital. They are living in extreme poverty after having been dumped with a poor woman who cannot support them. Conor frantically calls other Western child welfare agencies who are operating in the capital, and is finally able to find a place for all 7 children. He visits the children and tells them that someone will be coming soon to take them to a safe place where they will live with other children and attend school.


At this time, Conor returns to the United States and intends to get on with his life. Not long after his return, he receives an email from the lady who was to pick up the 7 children: they have disappeared. The child trafficker who abandoned them has had word that people are interested in them, so he removes the children again. Conor feels an overwhelming sense of guilt because he'd promised the children that someone would be coming to take them away to a safe place, and instead they were taken by a very dangerous person.


Once again Conor returns to Nepal, this time with the main focus of his trip being to find the missing 7 children. While there, he also vows to visit the home region of the Little Princes children and find out how many of the parents are still alive. The rest of the book is taken up with his efforts to locate the parents, find the missing children, and, eventually, to start his own children's home.


The book is very heart-warming. It's very interesting to read about a country that is fairly unknown to most people. I had no idea that such horrible things were happening to the children in that country. There is an interesting article from 2007 about Conor's journey in The University of Virginia Magazine. He has also started an organization, Next Generation Nepal, which attempts to reunite the trafficked children with their parents.


I received an Advanced Reader's Copy of the book from Harper Collins and was very moved by the story. The book won't be released until February, but I hope everyone will look for it then.


Final Verdict for Little Princes: Four Gherkins, for being an enlightening and thought-provoking look at a major problem in a remote country

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