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Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal    by Conor Grennan order for
Little Princes
by Conor Grennan
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Having been in Nepal twice in the late 1970s and 80s, I have vivid memories, while trekking, of bright-eyed children regularly popping out of nowhere to demand candy or pens. Watching the news of the Maoist insurrection, I wondered how these urchins fared. In Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, Conor Grennan shares his own experiences as, first an orphanage volunteer, and later an advocate for these forgotten kids.

In a Note on the Crisis in Nepal at the beginning, Grennan tells us that, during Nepal's decade-long civil war, Maoist rebels forced children to join the rebel army, while child traffickers collected vast sums from impoverished villagers to take their children to Kathmandu Valley, where they abandoned them ... he tells us that 'There are tens of thousands of children still missing in Nepal.'

Bored and looking for 'radical change' in his life, Grennan embarked on his two month volunteer stint at a Nepal orphanage, the Little Princes Children's Home (started by a French woman) in the tiny village of Bistachhap as 'the perfect way to begin' a year-long travel adventure. He certainly gets more than he bargained for after he befriends a fellow volunteer, French Farid, and adjusts to the happy mayhem the orphans generate.

Gradually he learns that a child trafficker with powerful connections brought the children to Kathmandu Valley. He leaves after the two months but promises the kids that he will return a year later - and keeps that promise. After a woman who shows up at the orphanage turns out to be the mother of two of the boys, Conor discovers that most of them are not orphans, but have family in a remote area (Humli) who do not know their fates.

Finding out that the mother has become the caretaker for seven starving children (dumped on her by the child trafficker), Conor and Farid work hard to find them a place. The Umbrella Foundation agrees to take them. Broke, Conor returns home to restart a career. But then he learns that, before his friends could pick up the kids, they vanished, kidnapped by the trafficker. Haunted that his last words to the children had been to promise them safety, Conor decides to return, but first fundraises on their behalf.

The rest of the book tells how Conor and Farid, helped by Nepalese official Gyan Bahadur, tracked down the seven children and established a new orphanage, the Next Generation Nepal Children's Home. Along the way, Conor met and courted the love of his life, Liz, a lawyer volunteering in Africa, who travelled to Nepal on several occasions to spend time with him and his kids. Conor also made the dangerous trek to the Humli region, where he found many of the children's families and warned other parents of the risk of entrusting their kids to child traffickers.

Gradually word spread. More and more parents arrived in Kathmandu seeking lost children, and eventually Farid took the Little Princes on a visit back to Humla. At the end, the author tells us that part of the book's proceeds go 'toward food, clothing, educational supplies, and finding more families of trafficked children in Nepal.' It's an impressive endeavor and Little Princes tells a true story that touches the heart.

Young men and women used to travel to explore the world, to find new places and experiences. Now, many seem to be looking for novel ways to help others and make a difference - as described in Sarah Erdman's Nine Hills to Nambonkaha, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's Three Cups of Tea, and now Conor Grennan's Little Princes. I applaud them all for their compassion and commitment.

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