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Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

How one man's jaunt to Nepal became a mission of mercy.

By Terry Hong / February 7, 2011

Little Princes By Conor Grennan William Morrow 304 pp

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Two warnings: 1. Don’t read Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal in public unless you enjoy making a spectacle of yourself, wiping your eyes and blowing your nose every few pages; 2. Skip the middle photo insert until you’ve read the final page. My sole quibble with this book would be that the pictures – thoroughly appreciated! – need to appear at story’s end so as not to reveal too much too soon. Other than that, get ready to be mesmerized by a wildly emotional thrill ride.

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At age 29, Conor Grennan quit his international public policy job with peripatetic intentions, ready to invest his “entire net worth on a trip around the world.” His first stop was a three-month volunteer stint in an orphanage in Nepal. He readily confesses that his lofty decision originated in earning bragging rights, as well as combating any forthcoming criticism about the “unrepentantly self-indulgent” nature of such a trip. He even formulated the perfect “selfless” response: “Well frankly, Mom, I didn’t peg you for somebody who hates orphans.”

Although Grennan learns that Nepal is in the middle of an endless civil war, he reasons that that’s just an exaggeration: “No organization was going to send volunteers into a conflict zone.” He knows next to nothing about the Nepalese language, history, customs, food. And, ironically, he lacks even “a single skill that ... would be applicable to working with kids” when he arrives in November 2004 at Little Princes Children’s Home (named after Saint-Exupéry’s “Le Petit Prince” by its French founder) in Godavari, a bus ride – and a world – outside Nepal’s capital of Katmandu.

For three months, Grennan lives with, takes care of, teaches, and comes to deeply admire and love the 18 Little Princes – 16 boys and two girls. Eventually, he makes a shocking discovery: The children are not orphans. They are from the isolated northwest province of Humla – a stronghold of the Maoists, Nepal’s most extreme rebel army – and were taken from their parents by a human trafficker.

With a never-end­ing civil war, Maoist insur­gents resorted to abducting even the youngest children to repopulate their depleted forces. Desperate parents sold whatever they could to pay virtual strangers who promised to protect and educate their children away from war. Too often these strangers were child traffickers, selling the boys as domestic slaves, shipping the girls to brothels; Little Princes’s founder had rescued the 18 children from a powerful trafficker virtually above the law.

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