Each year, Villanova University chooses one book considered “worthy of close reading”. The goal of the One Book program is to inspire dialogue among students and faculty and to foster further discussion and analysis throughout the academic school year. The book is supposed to provide opportunities for Villanovans to analyze and evaluate not only the ideas expressed in the book, but their own ideas and intentions.
The seal of Villanova University has a flaming heart which symbolizes the fiery passion of St. Augustine in his quest for truth and love. If you remember your application to Villanova, you might remember the question, “What sets your heart on fire?” In his book Little Princes, Connor Grennan’s heart was set on fire and continues to burn for “the Lost Children of Nepal”. This man embodies Villanova’s Augustinian values and our creed of truth, unity, and love through his dedication to service and his selfless attempts to deliver those who have been treated with injustice. This book is not only worthy and appropriate to be this year’s “One Book”, but also will inspire you, too, and set your heart on fire for the children of Nepal. Grennan helps you to believe that anything is indeed possible, as long as you believe.
Imagine getting on a plane to a place you have never been, having very little idea of exactly where you are going and of what you are going to do when you get there.
A man in his late twenties, Connor Grennan was bored with his life. His desire for a change of scenery led to his spur-of-the-moment decision to take a year off and travel around the world. He considered volunteering at an orphanage to justify his “year of fun” traveling the world to his family and friends and to impress women.
Connor Grennan wasn’t an inspired philanthropist and had no master plan. He even admitted to confusing Nepal with its neighboring country, Tibet, when he first decided to go there. He notes, “Nepal was merely the first stop.” Or so he thought.
Grennan writes in a brutally honest manner. He discusses his trip to Nepal without a cosmopolitan façade or condescending tone. Instead, he tells the story of his trip the way it really happened; there is no sugarcoating of the facts nor embellishment of what transpired. We, as readers, are inundated with the whole truth of Grennan’s adventure abroad just as it swallowed him in his travels. Primarily, Grennan expresses the bewilderment and curiosity that any inexperienced traveler would feel, making the reader feel at home in his shoes. He confides that his experience had nothing to do with others; it was simply a product of his own self- interest. He chooses to volunteer at the Little Princes orphanage in Nepal by pure chance. Thrust into an environment he almost fully misunderstands, Grennan refreshingly admits how he is severely uncultured and unaware. This is where Connor Grennan’s self-changing journey begins.
The children of Little Princes were overwhelming at all times, constantly hanging all over him or wanting to play or crying or asking him questions. They behaved just like normal elementary age children behaved. The only real difference was that these children had nothing to their names. Orphaned at young ages during the Maoist conflict and taken in by the Little Princes founder, a French woman named Sandra, each child had exactly two sets of clothes that they wore interchangeably year round. At the beginning, Grennan couldn’t distinguish most of the children from one another and instead remembered their names by the clothes that they wore. The most they could remember was that they came from Humla, a region in the mountains of Nepal that was inaccessible due to the Maoist occupation. There was no way to get back, and no one to go back to. After just three months with the children, Grennan realizes he needs the children just as much as they need him. Although he was to continue with his travels, Grennan promises to return in a year. And he meant it.
He enjoys his sixteen-country tour in the next nine months, but constantly thinks of the Little Princes children. Grennan hadn’t realized at this point that he was a truly changed man. Instead of returning to the United States immediately, he returns to Nepal for a final three months of travel to see the children again. But something happens that changes everything.
A woman from the main city of Kathmandu comes to the Little Princes home. Strangely, she bears an uncanny resemblance to the two young brothers Nuraj and Krish living in the home, and was supposedly their mother. But how could she be their mother if they were orphans? It didn’t make sense.
After a few hours of prying and questioning the children, the volunteers at Little Princes realize that none of these children from Humla were orphans. They were taken away from their families as children to keep them from being drafted into the Maoist army, with a promise from their guardian that, for a fee, they would be educated and kept safe. After their parents paid a large price and the children were taken by a stranger, these children were then left scattered around Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal, threatened into lying and telling everyone for years that their parents were dead. The children were neither kept safe nor educated. The stark reality, far worse than orphanism, was that their parents were out there, trapped in Humla, with no way of finding their children, nor their children them. Grennan was appalled. Yet despite his anger and outrage, the indigenous people could only offer one explanation. This was Nepal.
Nuraj and Krish’s mother was also taking care of seven other children from Humla that weren’t hers. These children had also been passed off as orphans by one of the main child traffickers, called Golkka, and he had recently left them with her when he had nowhere to put them. The children were now sickly and hungry, and the woman couldn’t support them. Before returning to the United States, Grennan arranged for another orphanage to take them in, promising they would be taken care of.
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Upon his return, Grennan found out that Golkka had taken the seven children away before they were brought to one of the orphanages. Grennan was furious and overwrought with guilt. His promise would be broken, and these children would continue to suffer. He was filled with inspiration and purpose. He would return to Nepal and find the children.
There were many flaws in his plan. First, he had no savings left from his year of travel. Second, these children were scattered around the country of Nepal, and would be difficult to locate. All he really had were their names and a few lines worth of information about them with pictures he had taken on his trip. Taking the biggest risk of his life, he decided to start a non-profit, and swore to himself that he would not only find the children, but he would bring them back to their families in Humla. He wanted to reunite all of the Little Princes children with their families. Although he had a severe lack of resources and no plans for his own future, Grennan collected funds and tried to develop a plan to get back to Nepal. This was his only hope of keeping his promise.
Connor Grennan didn’t go to Nepal with a plan in mind. However, his experience had more of an effect on him than any plan could have. He had been thrust into a search for hope, a search for faith, and a search for love, both for himself and for the Nepali children. The reader is led al through the joys and the pains of Grenna’s journey, into the depths of the mountains of Nepal in his quest to reunite these families once and for all.
Little Princes is not required reading. There is no assignment, no due date, and no grade. You have no obligation at all to even pick up this book from your RA. But anyone who doesn’t read this book is missing out on the opportunity to see what Connor Grennan saw, hear what Connor Grennan heard, and feel what Connor Grennan felt. Anyone who reads this book will come out of the mountains with Grennan, changed for good.
By Christine Fossaceca ‘ 16