Conor Grennan didn't even like kids when he flew to Nepal in 2004 to work for a few months in an orphanage. The idea only came to him, he said, after friends kept asking about why he wasn't planning on including some volunteer work in the year-long trip around the world he had planned.
"I didn't go to Nepal to kind of save the lost children of Nepal," said Grennan. But after bragging to a girl in a bar about his plans to volunteer, that's exactly what he ended up doing.
Grennan is the founder of Next Generation Nepal, a non-profit organization devoted to reuniting trafficked children with the parents they were taken from. He has also written a book called "Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal," about his experiences working in Nepal to help the children.
Grennan visited Hendricks Chapel on Tuesday night as part of Syracuse's University Lectures Series. Both students and members of the community braved the cold to hear him talk about his journey into volunteering, the power of storytelling and the importance of getting out and doing something for someone else.
After his first stay at the orphanage, Grennan said he became attached to the children. "If you throw yourself into something, you start to really enjoy it," he said. When his time was up at Little Princes Children's Home, he promised the staff and children he would return in a year.
When Grennan returned to Nepal the following year, the ongoing civil war had grown worse. One day a woman approached the orphanage gate. When asked if she needed help, Grennan remembered to woman replying "'yes, I think you have two of my children.'" When he and his colleagues learned the woman was right, Grennan's eyes were opened to the world of human trafficking and the role many of the orphanages play in it.
Soon, it became Grennan's mission to help reunite these "orphans" with their families.
In 2006, Grennan formed Next Generation Nepal. NGN helps children by searching rural regions of Nepal for families of children living in orphanages. Often, Grennan said, this search involves trekking into the mountainous regions and walking around villages with a photo of a child.
"You take photos of kids, get as much information as you can and throw on a backpack," Grennan said. The process is not easy, but for the families of these children, Grennan and his team are bringing a lost child back to life.
There are two ways to change the world, said Grennan. These are through storytelling and through volunteering.
"Volunteering, to me, is the act of changing someone's life," he said. Whatever motivation there may be behind a person's decision to volunteer, whether it be to add character to a resume or for the pure satisfaction of volunteering, the important thing is to go and do it, said Grennan. "Motivation doesn't matter to the people you're helping," he said.
On storytelling, Grennan said: "The only way we can make any difference in this world is to be good storytellers." The best way to make others care about something, he said, is to make it relatable. Issues have to be humanized.
Grennan's talk resonated with Rachel Bowers, a junior policy studies major. "I have done mission work in other countries," said Bowers, who has visited Zambia to help children orphaned by AIDS. "I plan to join the Peace Corps when I graduate," she said, adding that she would like to return to Africa to work with children some time.
Emily Ruddock attended the lecture with her social entrepreneurship class. As an MPA student, she appreciated the opportunity to hear from someone who has worked in the field. "It was really great to kind of have a real-life case study in how to attack a social problem using innovative solutions including simply just getting involved."
The next University Lecture will take place on March 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hendricks Chapel. Jim Richardson, a National Geographic Magazine photographer and contributing editor at TRAVELER Magazine, will speak about his work.