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‘Travel has been my way of coping with grief and learning to enjoy life on my own,’ says Mary, who has charmingly nicknamed herself the Roving Wrinkly.
She and Phil, who was an accountant, had a very happy relationship. Money was tight when their children were growing up, and family holidays were spent in France in a camper van.
But their globe-trotting plans were dashed when, three months into their first six-month adventure, Phil fell seriously ill at the age of 60.
Nothing held any joy for me any more.’ Mary remembers sitting in a chair in a dressing gown at home in Twickenham, South-West London, for three whole days, unable to move or engage with the world in any way.
She knew she was sinking into depression and feared she’d never recover. ‘I realised my kids had lost one parent and didn’t want to lose another. I was hurting all over, but I knew I had to pull myself together,’ she says.
Undeterred, in July 1994 she set off in a coach from Victoria Bus Station clutching bags of various teaching resources and warm clothes.
She was dismayed to discover the other volunteers were mostly in their early 20s.
Her brief was to create English language courses from scratch for children aged three to 16, as well as to employ staff, equip the school and organise educational trips to England for the students. Even in Moldova she had been with other volunteers.