Ann Marcer And The Girls Of Nepal Who Changed Her Life

How Ann Marcer taught Nepalese girls strength and confidence, and how they taught her in return.

Ann Marcer was your average 67 year old primary school teacher. As she approached 40 years as a teacher Marcer was eagerly preparing for retirement with her husband. However, just two months before she was set to retire, her husband suddenly died. Marcer was heartbroken and distraught, her and her husband had planned an entire post-retirement travel plan, they even booked a camper van and had plans in motion to lease their house in the United Kingdom for two years. The original plan was for the two of them to bus around Europe, and hike in as many spots as they could. When her husband unfortunately passed, Ann knew she still wanted to see the world, and she knew that’s what her husband would’ve wanted to. So instead of taking a bus around Europe by herself, Ann decided to talk with her friends and colleagues about what could fulfill her the most as she enters the new and independent chapter in her life. 

That’s where ‘Voluntary Services Overseas,’ or VSO, came in. One of Ann’s friends had worked with VSO before and after talking with her friend Ann decided this was how she wanted to travel. VSO is a “not for profit organisation that sends teachers, medics, and aid workers to some of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries,” according to the official website. So, once Ann was officially retired, she packed a small bag and was on her way to her next life journey in Nepal, in South Asia.

“I packed up my entire life into a backpack and a small suitcase that weighed just 30kg, and flew to Kathmandu. It just goes to show how little of what we own we actually need.” (The Mirror Magazine)

Ann told the Mirror that her and her husband always talked about going to Nepal, so the location assignment felt right from the start. VSO told Ann they wanted her to go to Nepal as part of a UK Aid funded program that trains the local Nepalese teachers. Ann was stationed a few towns over from the Annapurna mountains, a range that her and her husband always talked about climbing, according to Ann.  Her role, would be to cover training in 12 schools, the closest one being a one hour walk away, while the furthest taking a whopping 5 hours to get to by bus. Initially, her co volunteers were concerned for Ann and all the physical work this job would entail, however, she wasn’t planning on backing down anytime soon, especially after meeting the young women that were in these Nepalean school systems. 

“They were very interested that I’d had a career – many of them don’t make it all the way through school, because of pressures to work in the fields to feed their family, or to stay at home and care for relatives,” said Ann to The Mirror. 

After working for just a few days with these girls, one of the biggest things she noticed was the massive amount of shame that surrounded her when it came to periods. After learning a little bit more about the culture, she had a greater understanding of where that shame came from. In certain parts of South Asia, the citizens practice something called “chaupadi,” which is when women who are on their menstrual cycle are banned from their homes and forced to sleep in “exile huts” more commonly looked at as cattle sheds, according to the Mirror. The practice was made illegal in 2017, but because Nepal is so underdeveloped, there’s no real law enforcement stopping the practice from continuing.

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“I noticed how bad the girls’ toilets were in many of my schools. Lots of them didn’t have any running water, so if the girls came on their period early they wouldn’t even be able to have a wash. Some of them had no toilet doors, so there was no privacy.”

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According to the Pulitzer Center, women and children have died from this practice due to smoke inhalation, fire, or even snake bites from snakes who take shelter in the tiny makeshift stone huts. Ann reported that she never saw the practice done firsthand, however, she did notice that when girls in her schools were on their period they stopped showing up altogether. Ann knew that she wanted to make this issue her number one priority, and began a program to teach young girls how to make their own sanitary pads, instead of using the old rags that they’ve been using which could cause infections and other health problems.

Her work in Nepal was full of training teachers, teaching kids, and especially teaching young girls about their bodies and not to feel any shame about something that happens to everyone. After eighteen months Ann was feeling great, and then a massive 7.9 level earthquake hit, destroying so much of South Asia. When all was said and done 9,000 innocent lives were taken and thousands more were left homeless. Even though this wasn’t her home, Ann was shocked at the amount of locals who came specifically to make sure she was okay.

After the fact, VSO contacted Ann and offered to send her home so she could get away from the devastation and dangerous living situation, however, Ann couldn’t stop thinking about all the young girls she’s grown so close to, and who she’s genuinely helped. So she ended up staying, and immediately met with UNICEF to help organize supplies to rebuild and remodel all the schools she had been working in.

“They were terrified too, but that’s Nepali people for you – always looking out for others.”

For six weeks Ann worked 24/7 with the schools and transportation companies to find outdoor spaces so the kids could continue to learn. She taught classes to little girls about dealing with trauma and PTSD in regards to the earthquake. After her two years were done, Ann left Nepal touched and missing all the kids she’s touched. So much so that less than a few months later she postponed a meeting with the Queen to receive her OBE to go back to Nepal, a move not many would do simply to volunteer. 

“This whole experience has given me a completely different dimension to my retirement – it’s given me a different purpose and a different way of looking at things. I gained as much from the volunteering role as the people I was working with, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

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