Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Volunteering No Longer a Fringe Activity"

Last month my AAUW Book Discussion Group read Little Princes, since it was the Huntington Beach Reads 2016 selection.

On Saint Patrick's Day evening I dropped by the Huntington Beach library theater to hear Conor Grennar, the founder of Next Generation Nepal discuss how he came to write about his work in Little Princes Orphanage.

The cover of his book is misleading, he claimed. It implies that he had long held this noble goal, when actually he started out on this adventure in order to impress people and pick up girls.

Appropriately, Conor is if he's kissed the Blarney Stone, I wouldn't be surprised. Sure, he may have thought that volunteering his time might elevate his status in the eyes of potential dates, but I suspect he always had a bit of altruism in his blood.

Conor witnessed firsthand how most of the world really lives. On his website he details why he wrote this book:

 I am desperate for readers, especially younger readers, to see what getting involved can do. How it can change your life so completely, and in ways you could never imagine. How volunteering, whether it is in an impoverished third world nation or in your hometown, requires only that you show up. Don’t worry how little of your time or resources you may have to offer—just offer it, and see what happens. 

The fact is, volunteering is no longer a fringe activity—the world gets smaller every day and we have a responsibility to understand what it looks like. It’s not how the other half lives, it’s how the other 90 percent live. And I believe that each of us has a responsibility to know what those lives look like, even if we only give one single day of our life to discovering it. Because it could have been us.

The Little Princes kids in 2015

It's been a dozen years since he first set foot in Nepal, but Conor returns regularly. This photo is from an October 2015 visit. On his blog he writes, "An amazing first day in Kathmandu with all the Little Princes boys (and girls!), Liz and some friends that came with us! The kids (teenagers!!) organized a whole program for our visit to entertain us, with food and dancing and singing - totally wild and super fun. It was like we never left."

Conor's story resonated with me, and I'm certain it would with many of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers I continue to interact with, nearly thirty years after I first joined that United States agency. Many of us continue to keep in contact with the people we grew to love in our years overseas. And we continue to proselytize about the benefits of volunteering. It's an old but true story that Volunteers usually claim that they gained much more than they gave.  Living and working in a developing country changes your worldview forever. It's an experience that can't be duplicated by merely traveling through a faraway land.

During the Q&A session that followed Conor's talk, one woman asked how college students could find opportunities to volunteer with such groups as Next Generation Nepal, and have a chance to work overseas. Conor suggested that often volunteers cannot afford the airfare and related expenses of such work, but could find opportunities locally.

I knew the session was drawing to a close so that Conor could autograph his books and have his picture taken with the attendees. So I resisted raising my hand. But as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer,  I would have liked to have reminded the crowd that for well over 50 years Peace Corps has given Americans such a chance, and at no personal expense other than a commitment of 27 months of service. The Peace Corps continues to provide technical assistance at the invitation of developing countries, and does not drain other countries' limited resources. Rather, it furthers sustainable development through its transfer of skills to host country nationals. 

I probably would not have picked this book up at the library had it not been a book group choice. But I'm glad I did...and it's a reason I belong to book groups. They lead me to books I otherwise would have overlooked. I'm delighted to learn that the Huntington Beach Reads partnership ensures that high school students have access to such books that will expand vistas for young readers.

HB Reads is a joint program of the City of Huntington Beach Human Relations Task Force and Huntington Beach Library Board of Trustees.

For more about Conor Grennan and Next Generation Nepal:

And for more about Peace Corps activities in Orange County:

1 comment:

  1. You've peaked my interest. It looks like a good read. <3