Conor Grennan’s "Little Princes"

Commentary | April 18, 2011

When he was 29, EWI alumnus Conor Grennan did what so many of us dream of doing: he set out on a year-long trip around the world. His first stop was Nepal, where he volunteered for three months at an orphanage – partially, he admits, to impress women in bars. But the experience grew into much more than a pick-up line.

In his bestselling memoir, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, Grennan recounts how he came to care for 18 rambunctious orphans who, as it turned out, were not orphans at all. Rather, they were trafficked children from remote Humla district, a Maoist stronghold during Nepal’s decade-long civil war. Grennan learned that, to prevent Maoists from conscripting their children, parents paid traffickers to take them to safety in Kathmandu. Once there, they were abandoned or sold into service.  

Little Princes is the story of Grennan’s efforts to reunite the trafficked children with their families. The most dramatic chapters describe Grennan’s dangerous trek through mountain villages with a badly injured knee, made all the more suspenseful by the prospect that winter snows might strand him far from Kathmandu, where Liz Flanagan, his future wife, had come for a first visit.

It’s also the story of how Grennan founded the NGO Next Generation Nepal (NGN), to reconnect trafficked Nepali children with their families – a story Grennan elaborated on in a recent conversation.

“I realized I didn’t know how to start an organization,” Grennan says. But he knew who did: his former colleagues at EWI. Grennan reached out to EWI alumni Antje Herrberg and Sasha Havlicek, both of whom are now on NGN’s board along with fellow alumni Mark Shulman and Wayne Harvey. He also had long, encouraging conversations with EWI President John Mroz.

Grennan says that in an early draft, Little Princes began with a detailed account of his six years at EWI, starting in 1996 when, fresh out of college, he met EWI Executive Vice President Stephen Heintz—now a Director—and began work in the Prague office. He explains, “EWI was my entrée into both life and adventure, and furthermore into Nepal.”

While beginning the book in Nepal makes sense, the reader misses out on seeing Grennan start a project aimed to harmonize Balkan parliaments’ legislation, including laws on human trafficking – a problem that, of course, would become Grennan’s life work.

Although Nepal’s civil war ended in 2006, Grennan says that trafficking in regions like Humla remains a big problem. “There are thousands of children who are still abandoned in Kathmandu, half a dozen years later,” he says.

Today, Grennan and his wife Liz live in Connecticut, with their son Finn. While Grennan is the chairman of NGN’s board, he has stepped down from leading operations in Nepal, which now include a new orphan’s home in Humla, built with the book’s proceeds. 

“They don’t need me back there,” Grennan laughs. In addition to a professional staff, several of the original boys Grennan cared for in 2004 – now older teenagers – are working for NGN. 

“They are helping to find families. It’s an amazing thing,” Grennan says,

Any reader of Little Princes will agree with him.

Click here to learn more about Grennan's NGO, Next Generation Nepal