For three months, Grennan lives with, takes care of, teaches, and comes to deeply admire and love the 18 Little Princes – 16 boys and two girls. Eventually, he makes a shocking discovery: The children are not orphans. They are from the isolated northwest province of Humla – a stronghold of the Maoists, Nepal’s most extreme rebel army – and were taken from their parents by a human trafficker.
With a never-ending civil war, Maoist insurgents resorted to abducting even the youngest children to repopulate their depleted forces. Desperate parents sold whatever they could to pay virtual strangers who promised to protect and educate their children away from war. Too often these strangers were child traffickers, selling the boys as domestic slaves, shipping the girls to brothels; Little Princes’s founder had rescued the 18 children from a powerful trafficker virtually above the law.
Grennan can’t imagine the horrors and tragedies these children – who are so quick to laugh and smile – must have survived. Soon they become “my” and “our” children. Their resilience, determination, and boundless love change the direction of Grennan’s life.
When he leaves for the rest of his world tour in January 2005 he promises to return. One year later, he eagerly lands back with his Little Princes for another three months. The joy of witnessing two of his Princes reunite with their mother is dampened by the discovery of seven additional trafficked, starving children in need of rescuing. But by now it’s April 2007 and Nepal is exploding in political turmoil. The country is not safe for foreigners and Grennan must leave. But before he goes he makes arrangements for the seven children to be moved to safety.
Three weeks later, while job hunting from his mother’s New Jersey home, Grennan receives “the e-mail … that changed everything”: “The seven children were gone.”