When Conor Grennan left his job at the East West Institute in Brussels, he formulated a plan that included traveling around the world for a year and being open to whatever came next. “I added volunteering at a Nepali orphanage for three months,” he says, “because I thought it sounded more noble for a 30-year-old than just an open-ended trip to relax.”
What happened next surprised everyone, but none more so than Conor himself. He explains, “I went to volunteer at Little Princes Children’s Home in Godawari, Nepal not knowing the first thing about working with children and fell in love with the kids.” Though he continued his travels as planned, Conor returned to the children a year later. “During that second visit, I learned that many of Kathmandu’s ‘orphans’ are actually trafficked children,” he says. “The traffickers are well known in Kathmandu…they travel to extremely remote regions of Nepal and promise impoverished parents that they will take the children to Kathmandu and educate them.”
The parents, desperate for their children to have opportunities they cannot provide, pay vast sums of money to these men—often selling their only possessions to do so. But in Kathmandu, the traffickers enslave the children as street beggars and laborers and house them in illegal orphanages. “What makes it even worse,” Conor says, “is that officials know about the trafficking and many take bribes to turn a blind eye…Unknowing tourists make donations to the ‘homes’ where the children are warehoused, so these guys are making money from the parents they are robbing and from generous foreigners.”
A practicing Christian with a deep commitment to caring for others, Conor sprang into action, establishing Next Generation Nepal with his colleague Farid Ait-Mansour to protect trafficked children from exploitation and abuse, while also working to reunite children with the parents they had been taken from years earlier. “There are thousands of trafficked children in Kathmandu,” Conor says. “Our goal is to reconnect as many of those children with their families as we can. While we search for their families, we offer them transitional care in safe homes like Little Princes where they can be loved and cared for.”
Conor and other volunteers have success- fully reunited many children with their parents, but the process is time-consuming and requires both arduous treks to remote villages and a tremendous amount of luck. Conor explains, “We carry photos of the children and hope that someone will recognize them and lead us to their parents.”
Aware that only prevention can end these tragedies, Conor, his wife Liz—who shares Conor’s devotion to the children and serves on NGN’s board—and the NGN team are now working with others to try to prevent further trafficking, through education and programs in rural villages to protect vulnerable families.
Conor proudly describes how even the children are helping in these efforts: “The oldest boy in our children’s home, Binod, accompanied our team into the mountains to act as a guide through the villages to search for the families of the trafficked children and ended up being our greatest advocate. He was brave enough to speak to the parents and others, telling them what he went through to try to convince parents just how dangerous trafficking was.”
As with much work in developing countries, each step forward is often met with a new challenge, but Conor is resolute: “What keeps me going is a single idea: that if we decide to pack up and go home, quit this work, then who will take our place? There are not other organiza- tions doing what we are doing. If we go home, we have to make the conscious decision that the next child will not be helped. I think about the parents of that child, and how desperately they need our help. I think about what I would want if it was my child. That keeps me going, even when it gets hard.”