'One Book Read' author set to speak at WKCTC

By By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

The first steps in Conor Grennan's journey for a good cause were not taken with the most noble of intentions, he admits.

His volunteer work in late 2004 at the Little Princes Orphanage in Nepal was meant to be a self-congratulatory pat on the back -- something he could tell others about, he said.

Instead it became a lifelong endeavor to help victims of child trafficking.

Since founding a nonprofit in 2006 called Next Generation Nepal, Grennan's organization has reunited hundreds of trafficked children with their families.

The full story of his journey is told in his memoir: "Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal."

"I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who want to 'save the world,' but I wasn't one of them," Grennan said. "I wrote the book, because I don't think I'm the only one."

"You can take someone as self-centered as I was and put them in a situation like that, and it can't help but transform somebody's heart."

The New York Times best-selling author visits Paducah next week as part of West Kentucky Community and Technical College's annual One Book Read event. On March 28 and 29, he'll discuss his book during community events -- and more importantly, the child trafficking problem in Nepal still ongoing.

Grennan left the developing country in 2004, only to return in early 2006 and continue his work at the orphanage. During this time a woman visited, claiming two of the children there, ages five and seven, were hers.

Sure enough, they were.

Nepal was nearing the end of a decade-long civil war by then. Grennan learned of Maoist rebels who toured the more ravaged areas, promising parents safety for their children in exchange for money. The children were then taken to cities by the rebels and abandoned.

By then, Grennan had realized the full scope of the situation. There were approximately 15,000 Nepalese children separated from their families.

"You take a photo of the kid, get their information and walk into the mountains," he said. "There's no shortcut for it. We had no high hopes, but now we've helped close to 600 kids. The work has been pretty intensive."

Inspired by Grennan's visit, WKCTC's One Book Read committee is raising donations for The Victory House, a Paducah-based nonprofit restoration home for female human trafficking victims.

"The donations go towards products like hygiene products and cleaning supplies that are expensive for the ministry to buy for rescued girls," said Kellie Russell, Victory House co-founder. "Everyone who helps, they're actually (helping to) save one more life. One more girl."

Far from a foreign problem, Grennan said his experiences in Nepal have opened his eyes back home.

"It was only after I wrote the book that I (discovered) trafficking was a problem in America as well," he said. "It was a huge wake-up call."

"I think it's a hidden problem, allowed to persist because people believe it can't happen except in developing or corrupt countries."

Grennan is brutally honest about his reasoning for traveling to Nepal in the first place, but he ultimately credits the decision for the lives he's been able to mend.

"People say to volunteer for the right reasons, but I don't think that at all," he said. "Whatever gets you off the couch is a good reason for volunteering, because that will be what transforms your heart."

Victory House

Contributions to the Paducah-based nonprofit The Victory House are being accepted in the form of hygiene products, cleaning and paper supplies, and cash donations.

They can be dropped off at WKCTC's Matheson Library, the Paducah School of Art and Design, and a few of the following events where the public is invited to meet Conor Grennan:

Tuesday, March 28

Opening Reception -- 6 p.m. at the WKCTC Student Center

Public Presentation/Question and Answer -- 7 p.m. at WKCTC Clemens Theatre (Donations accepted)

Book Signing -- 8:15 p.m. at WKCTC Clemens Gallery

Wednesday, March 29

Student Presentation -- 11 a.m. at WKCTC Clemens Theatre (Donations accepted)