police have rescued 20 children from Mukti Nepal, a Maharajgunj-based orphanage, and arrested its operator after finding the children living in squalor and without enough food. The children range from five to fifteen. Six boys and 14 girls were kept in one room. It seems clear that the orphanage was the dumping ground of one of the child traffickers in Nepal, and the deplorable conditions are often shown to Westerners as a sham to get money to "take care of the children." Instead, the cash goes into the traffickers' pockets and he looks for other Westerners to keep the money flowing. The following book review of Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal explains how child trafficking operates in Nepal.
What began as a trip around the world as a young man's adventure ended with a families--after discovering they weren't orphaned at all but trafficked instead--led to a lifetime commitment to the "orphaned" children of Nepal and to find their families. Conor Grennan's three-year quest of discovery about the harsh underbelly of child trafficking, as well as himself, is told in Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. The best part is that this single man, at first footloose and fancy free, gets why it's important for a mother and a father to be reunited with their children. Here it's called reunification.
The action took place against the backdrop of decades-long strife and civil war as a Maoist insurgency toppled a century-old and corrupt monarchy. The war led to the loss of more than 13,000 lives and the devastating economic conditions that threatened hundreds of thousands more in one of the poorest countries in the world. Into this chaotic world, Grennan went boldly and near recklessly to volunteer for three months at an orphanage near the capital of Kathmandu, The Little Princes Children's Home. The volunteer stint would give his round-the-world adventure gravitas. It would also be useful to pick up girls in bars, he cheerfully notes, adding he knew nothing about taking care of kids.
The memoir of his time in Nepal there is an engaging, engrossing tale of life in that part of the world we often only think of as supplying the Sherpa porters to the foolhardy souls who want to check off climbing Mt. Everest on their "bucket list" before they die. He came, he saw, and he was conquered by the need of the children he met there. When he returned home to the U.S., his thoughts kept returning back to them, and soon, so did he. Regular readers at First Mother Forum know that Nepal is also a country where international adoptions have been highly suspect for years due to widespread kidnapping and trickery to take children from their parents in this incredibly poor place. A few years ago, UNICEF urged that adoption from Nepal be shut down due to abuses in the system. They opened up again for about a year, but in August, with evidence of continuing and wide scale corruption in the system, the U.S. government stopped processing adoptions from Nepal; and in January, the government of Nepal itself shut down its trade in children. Caveat Emptor, in other words.*
How children came to be "orphaned" in the first place was eye-opening, even to me, and we've written about Nepali adoptions a number of times. They are not merely kidnapped, or taken from the street; their parents are often seduced with tales of a good education and a nice place to live for their children, and their parents incredibly turn over their life savings to unscrupulous traffickers to take their children. Instead of a good life, the children, some as young as three, end up living in squalor with little food, no education, and certainly no joy in their lives. This is where Grennan comes in. He determines to find their parents of children he meets.
During a hair-raising trek into the remote northern region of Nepal, Humla, where he finds the families of all 24 children he set out to locate, only two, a brother and a sister, are truly orphans whose parents have died. He finds mothers and fathers who are overjoyed to learn their children are alive, though he does make sure they understand the grim realities the children have endured until the people who run good orphanages rescued them, sometimes from virtual slavery. By happy accident he even locates the parents of one boy, now a teenager, who has faked death certificates of his parents. Okay, now Grennan's got me by the short hairs. Upon showing a woman a picture of her son, taken a couple of years after she has last seen him, he writes:
"It was instant recognition. She cried out, and the group crowded in to see. she touched it to her head, as one does with a sacred object, and broken down sobbing, two hands on the photo, thumbs pressing into it as if she was trying to enter the picture herself, to touch the boy with the oil-slicked hair parted down the middle, flashing his wide grin.The father gently took the photo from her and held it inches from his face. then he too began to cry."Sometimes upon entering a remote village, he discovers he can recognize the parents before their identity is established:
"The similarities between parent and child were remarkable, like stepping into a time machine and seeing the child twenty years in the future.On subsequent trips, he and the others he works with became even more efficient at finding families. But as we know here, "reunification" is more difficult than reunion:"Actually reuniting the children with their families, though turned out to be a much more complicated beast. Every parent was overjoyed to find their son or daughter again. But when they learned that their child [now under the care of a good orphanage, including the one Grennan would eventually establish] they were suddenly reluctant to take him or her home. Nepal is a terribly poor country; it is a challenge to support a family.Above all were the financial considerations. People were so poor and impoverished after the war that an extra mouth to feed was an incredible hardship. If NGN offered them a stipend to relieve the burden, word would spread and parents might be induced to take a chance to send their children off with a trafficker. "Never mind that the great majority of these children were never returned," he adds. The neighbors would focus on the one child who was.
"I understood the parents' perspective, but it put us in a difficult position. We were committed to doing what was best for the children, and the children were desperate to return home. We believed they had a right to be raised in their own homes, in their own communities--a belief shared by UNICEF and virtually all major child protection organizations. NGN [Next Generation Nepal, the nonprofit Grennan founded and still runs] existed to promote that right. Yet there were countless reasons why a child might not be able to return home. For example, one of the parents may have remarried; in Nepal, under such circumstances, the new stepmother or stepfather would rarely accept any children from the previous marriage. Sometimes we suspect abuse by an uncle or an aunt. On several occasions we learned that the parent was actually aiding a child trafficker. All of these circumstances would put a returned child at risk."
When Grennan and his partner, a French man named Farid, saw that the parents were not taking the children home, they found simply slowing down the process worked for a few. Parents were allowed to visit their children to reacquaint with them, with no pressure to take them. One mother visited her two children, a brother and sister, six times in eight weeks; in the ninth week, she asked to take them home.
From the website of Next Generation Nepal, I learn that while more than 300 families were found, only 35 are back living with their families; the rest are able to communicate regularly with them and are living in a safe "home care environment" in Kathmandu. NGN established a second home in Humla, where the children are from. That way they are able to see their families regularly, while still cared for and educated through NGN.
The inability of the parents to bring their children home saddened me, but Grennan makes clear the crushing poverty, as well as social custom, sometimes prevented that. Stepparents being unwilling to take in the child of a former partner reminded me not only of the animal kingdom where lions, for example, routinely kill the offspring of another parent if a new lioness with cubs comes into his harem, as well as those adoptees who are shunted from boarding school to summer camp when an adoptive parent dies, and the other remarries. The bond between the remaining parent, with a new spouse, and the adopted individual sometimes turns out to be as weak as a fraying rope.
Grennan tells his rich story with frankness, humor at times, and an engaging writing style. Every morning I found myself telling my husband the continuing saga of this story as it unfolded in the pages I had read the night before. The Little Princes sticks to the story but along the way you will learn not only about the culture of the country, the resilience of children, but also of the primal depth of relationships that begin before birth. Grennan gets it.
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I have never been to Nepal, but I do have a small piece of it. In 2000 when my daughter was getting married, in September in Wisconsin, I decided that I needed a cream-colored pashmina to complete my outfit, a butter yellow (yellow, again) summer suit. What if it was suddenly chilly? I reasoned, looking for an excuse to buy an authentic wrap. Then they weren't found on every third street corner in Manhattan from vendors and made of some mystery fabric that is certainly not the fine cashmere they were named for. I found what I was looking for at a website that offered the wraps directly from Nepal (where the best ones came from), and so I did. It cost around a hundred dollars, and I liked that most of the money would go to Nepal, and not a middleman.
A few weeks later, it arrived in a rustic package, and by god, it was mailed from Nepal. Though it hadn't been advertised, enclosed was a purple embossed-fabric carrying case for it, and a surprise pair of silver earrings with green stones. The website was called Sunrise Pasmina, but it has since closed down, and you are directed to another site, My Pashmina, based in Britian. The pashminas are still made in Nepal. When I wear it now, I will think not only of the happy day of Jane's wedding, but also of the stories of Nepal I learned in The Little Princes and hope that for a time, my purchase made someone's life easier.--lorraine
Photos have been deleted at the request of Next Generation Nepal.
* See: The Orphan Trade: A look at families affected by corrupt international adoptions.
And for more information about the really creepy situation (orphanage tourism, no less) in Nepal, go to On Children's Homes. It's really sick. I have to wonder when Elizabeth Bartholet will weigh in on how sad it is that adoptions from Nepal were shut down.
The Language of Blood (also shown above), a memoir by Jane Jeong Trinka, is a brave exploration of her identity as a Korean adoptee and pensive young woman trying to negotiate between two mothers and two lives, one in Minnesota, one in Korea.
Shar's Story: A Mother and Daughter Reunited is a memoir of a first mother, through the relinquishment, sorrow, and eventual reunion. We are not yet familiar with this book--but the birth takes places in the memorable...1966. More to follow.