NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - When 29-year-old Conor Grennan volunteered at an orphanage in Nepal he had one goal — to use the experience as a pickup line to impress women.
But instead that three-month experience in 2004 set the American, who admits he was selfish and self-centered, on a path to adventure that was unusual by any standards.
Since then, he has set up a foundation that runs several children’s homes in Nepal, and he crusades against child trafficking in the impoverished country.
Grennan’s personal road to discovery is captured in his debut book, “Little Princes,” which was published this week.
His journey began with a decision to leave his job and spend all his money a year of round-the-world travel. Volunteering, he said, would deflect criticism from friends that his plans were self-indulgent.
“When I mentioned Nepalese orphans to women, their eyes opened wide. It sounded exotic. I was going to work with kids, and it turned into a great pickup line,” Grennan told Reuters. “It put me in a different category for people who thought, rightfully, that I was a selfish and self-centered guy and it made them think, ‘Maybe he is a decent guy.’”
When Grennan arrived in the village of Godawari to work at the Little Princes Children’s Home in war-torn Nepal, he knew nothing about children or the local culture.
“I made faux pas after faux pas,” he said. “The kids would ask what my favorite food was and I would say, ‘Hamburgers.’”
Since the kids were Hindu, he said that was akin to saying, “My favorite food was their God on a toasted bun.”
But Grennan became so attached to the kids after his planned trip around the world he returned to them.
During his second stint at the home, which housed 18 kids aged four to 10, the unexpected visit of a woman changed his life and the lives of the kids.
The woman was the mother of two of the children even though the kids had said their parents were dead. The children were found to be victims of child trafficking.
Grennan discovered that Maoist rebels in the northwestern province of Humla on the border with China had demanded that each family give up one child for the war effort. To avoid that, some families paid men to take their children to the distant Kathmandu Valley, to what they were told would be a safer place.
Eventually, the parents were told, when peace returned the kids could return to their families. But the promise was a fraud and the children were taken for profit, with some sold as domestic slaves and others used as beggars.
Grennan resolved to trek through Nepal after the peace agreement in 2006, which made its rural areas more accessible, to find their parents and when possible to reunite them.
“I just started walking with photos of the kids,” he said. “I would just show up in villages and show photographs around. I went with 24 photos, and I found 24 families.”
Since returning from Nepal, Grennan earned a master’s degree in business and wrote his book. His foundation, Next Generation Nepal, built a home in Humla for trafficked children whose families were too poor to take them back.
In the Humla home, built with Grennan’s book advance, the children can spend time with their families.
While volunteering with orphans was not a successful pickup line, Grennan’s journey did result in his meeting the woman who would become his wife. The couple and their young son live in Connecticut and are expecting their second child.
“Can you believe it? It actually worked in the end — I got the girl,” Grennan said.