Today I finally completed a really good story about McNair Academic alumnus Conor Grennan that I have been wanting to write for so long. I did the interview on May 13 but I just never had time to write it with all the other stories I had to do. But finally, I managed to get everything else done and carve out some extra time for it.
Conor has recently gotten attention for his novel “Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal,” which focuses on his journey to reunite trafficked children with their parents.
I’ll let the story speak for itself.
How Conor Grennan saved the “Little Princes” of Nepal
When former Jersey City resident Conor Grennan first began keeping a journal while studying at McNair Academic High School, he never imagined that his writing would someday take him through the mountains of Nepal or land him on The New York Times Bestseller list.
“I started writing in high school. It was in an English class there with Mr. Delo. He made me keep a journal for one week and I did. I kept on going for 11 years. The journal turned into a blog which turned into this book.”
Grennan’s memoir “Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal,” which details his fight against human trafficking and trek to reunite children with their families, has been widely praised by critics. It was even mentioned in O Magazine and entered The New York Times Bestseller list at #23 in February.
The 35-year-old’s journey from Chilltown boy to Nepalese hero to literary star was not easy.
In 1992, the Poughkeepsie native graduated from McNair where he says teachers like Donald Delo transformed him.
“He was incredibly encouraging of just writing what was meaningful to you. Delo was just passionate about getting kids to write about what they wanted to write about rather than what he wanted them to write about.”
While Grennan knew he was passionate about writing, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. His restlessness lingered even after he graduated from the University of Virginia and worked at the EastWest Institute in Prague and Brussels for eight years.
In 2005, Grennan decided on a whim to travel to Nepal. When some questioned his plans, the Government major came up with a way to save his image.
“People were giving me a tough time because it was so self-indulgent. I realized if I volunteered somewhere, I could get those people off my back and also impress girls.”
Determined to see the world, look good and pick up chicks, 29-year-old Grennan headed to the war-torn country where he volunteered at the Little Princes Orphanage for three months. He ended up getting so attached to the kids that he came back a year later.
“The war was even worse in early 2006 – the king had declared martial law and Maoist rebels had taken over the country with the exception of the Kathmandu Valley,” he said, adding that he stayed anyway because he cared so deeply for the kids.
It was his love that pushed him to seek justice when he made the astonishing discovery that these children weren’t orphans at all.
“One day this woman came down the path and knocked on the gate and revealed herself to be the mother of the two kids which we thought was impossible,” he said. “It turned out that these kids were all actually trafficked.”
He said a con man had tricked desperate families who were afraid of the Maoist rebels by promising to take their children to safer areas for a fee. By the time the poor villagers realized they had been duped, the trafficker’s empty promises had whisked their kids away into new lives as sex workers, cheap labor or “orphans.”
“I couldn’t believe that the children under our protection were taken that way. It happened with so many children in Nepal,” Grennan said.
As things started heating up in the country and the Maoist revolution broke out, Grennan and many others fled the country and left seven kids whom they recently found to be picked up by another orphanage – unfortunately, the trafficker got to them first.
Back home in Jersey City, Grennan found out about the kidnapping and knew he had to go back. With help from a man with the child welfare board in Nepal, he found the illegal orphanages who had taken in the kids.
Miraculously, Grennan and his friend found all the children and decided to reunite them with their families.
“The families were deep in these very remote areas. I didn’t know how to find them but I took a plane, flew as deep into the mountains as I could on the border of Tibet, put on a backpack, got a local team together and started walking through the mountain on foot with photos of these kids.
“We walked for weeks. One by one, we started to actually find the families of those children.”
Eventually, all the children were brought home and Grennan had laid the foundation for his organization Next Generation Nepal, which is dedicated to reconnecting trafficked children and their parents.
While many admire his actions, Grennan says that he had simply grown up while volunteering in Nepal and did what anyone else would’ve done.
“For the first time, I stopped thinking about what everyone thought and impressing women. I fell in love with the kids and when I discovered what was going on there, I did what anyone else would’ve done.
“When I left Nepal, I had no intention of going back. But after spending that much time with the kids, keeping them alive, taking responsibility for them – I truly believe anyone would have gone back to try and find them. I felt responsible for them getting lost.”
After reconnecting the seven families, Grennan was ready to begin the rest of his life. Soon after his mission was complete, he was asked to turn blog entries about his journey into an article and later, into a book. The article, which appeared in UVA’s alumni magazine, caught the attention of his future wife.
Liz Flanagan was looking for a place to volunteer when she read Grennan’s story, was impressed, and wanted to meet him. They e-mailed back and forth for three months before meeting in Nepal.
“She came over and I fell head-over-heels in love with her. She’s been with me through the whole process,” said Grennan, who now has two kids with his wife – Finn, 2, and newborn Lucy.
The current New Canaan, Conn., resident is still fighting against traffickers – this time with the passion that only a father could have.
“It needs to be about kids and the parents. I can really sympathize with them in a way I couldn’t before,” he said.
Grennan said that most importantly, these children need hope.
“Children are very, very resilient and they can withstand a tremendous amount as long as somewhere in there they have some hope.”