Author Conor Grennan visited the University on Jan. 29 to speak with students about his memoir, “The Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home The Lost Children of Nepal”, which is the University’s One Book selection of this year.
Grennan’s visit included a number of events for the campus community, including a One Book dinner in the dining halls and culminating with the One Book author’s talk that evening. The One Book program, in its eighth year, distributes its annual selection to the entire campus.
Grennan’s memoir chronicles his time volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal and how this led him to found a non-profit called Next Generation Nepal, whose goal is to reunite trafficked children with their families.
In front of a packed audience in the Villanova Room on Tuesday night, Grennan spoke about his non-profit organization and his memoir. He also answered questions from a student panel.
Grennan began by describing how he decided to go to Nepal. “I went to Nepal because I wanted to take a trip around the world,” he said.
The more he began telling people about his year-long journey, the more people began asking him if he was going to be doing any volunteer work.
He originally had no intention of volunteering, but in an effort to impress someone, he quickly came up with the idea that he would volunteer at an orphanage in Nepal.
He did some research, and decided to go to Nepal for three months. When he first arrived at the orphanage, he was not prepared for the experience. After his stay at the Little Princes Orphanage, he decided he would come back again after his trip.
On his second trip to Nepal, Grennan was playing outside with the children when a woman came to the orphanage and said her two children were there. She had learned of the orphanage through an international aid worker, and hoped that her children were there. Years earlier, she had sent her children away with a man who said he could give them a better life—this man was a child trafficker. Her children had ultimately ended up safely at the orphanage and out of the hands of the child trafficker. It turned out that all of the children at the orphanage had similar stories and were, in fact, not orphans.
The two children were reunited with their mother.
“It was incredible to see this connection,” Grennan said.
The two children remained at the orphanage, but went to visit their mother in order to slowly reacquaint with her. Grennan soon discovered that the mother had seven abandoned children living with her, but that she could not support them.
Grennan organized for another foundation to take in these seven children and care for them. He had to leave Nepal because of the personal danger of being there during their civil war.
Before the foundation could rescue the children, the same child trafficker who had taken the two children years earlier came for these seven children.
Grennan had a choice to stay in the United States or to go back to Nepal when he heard this news.
He then began his non-profit Next Generation Nepal with the goal of finding these children and returned to Nepal.
One by one he found the children, and he decided that the next step was to reunite all of these children with their families.
He and a group of locals trekked through the mountains of Nepal to remote villages to find the families.
“It was an extraordinary thing to be able to put these families back together,” Grennan said.
Since then, Next Generation Nepal has reunited 500 children with their families and has started a college fund for these children.
While the author’s talk was the main event of Grennan’s visit, there were also several other events, including a book signing, a student session and a One Book dinner in Dougherty Dining Hall.
The dinner featured dishes authentic to Nepal. One of the dishes is called Daal Bhat, which is rice and lentil stew–Grennan mentions this dish frequently throughout the memoir.
Other dishes at the dinner included steamed dumplings, tandori chicken, pickled vegetables and banana-fried bread.
The One Book committee looks for certain criteria when choosing each year’s selection.
An ideal One Book has a broad appeal, suitable length, multiple frames and novelty.
It also challenges the readers to ask different questions and includes issues of race, culture, gender and social justice, said Terry Nance, assistant vice president of Multicultural Affairs and member of the One Book Committee.
“It is important that the book can generate insights from many different perspectives and can help the reader understand that there are in fact multiple ways of knowing and understanding the world,” Nance said.
These criteria were not the only reasons “Little Princes” was selected.
“Additionally we liked this book because it connected so well with the mission and values of Villanova,” Nance said.
Grennan’s advice to students looking to get involved in service is to not worry about why they are doing it.
“If you’re actively going to help people, they don’t care why you do it,” he said. The key is to become personally connected to a meaningful cause.
“There are no wrong reasons to volunteer,” Grennan said.