DATING can be difficult enough for those living near the dreaming spires of Oxford, but it’s even harder when you’re based in a war zone.
Aid worker Mary Thida Lun, 30, and her fiancé Captain Tom Berry, 27, fell in love in war-torn Sudan and now work in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Without any privacy, let alone a cinema or restaurant, they have had to think “creatively” to date behind the wire, but now plan to marry in Oxford in August.
Miss Lun, who grew up in Witney, works for the Government’s aid programme and is the deputy team leader responsible for reconstructing Helmand province.
Her work – through the Department for International Development – covers a wide remit and she has helped build more than 50 health clinics and get millions of Afghan girls into education for the first time.
After attending Henry Box School in Witney and The Queen’s College in Oxford, she wanted to give something back because her parents were rescued from Cambodia’s killing fields.
A group of friends who worked for Oxfam brought them to Oxfordshire in the 1970s to escape the Khmer Rouge, which had murdered most of their family and friends.
Miss Lun said: “I have always recognised that I was very fortunate to have been born in the UK and the opportunities that has given me.
“As much as my parents hate the idea of me living in dangerous countries, they feel I am giving back for all the good fortune we have had. If you want to have a positive impact on people’s lives, countries at risk of conflict are where you are going to make the most difference.”
But living on a military base brings with it risks, and two servicemen were killed at the main entrance to her base on March 26 by a rogue Afghan soldier.
Miss Lun said: “Obviously that has a huge impact on morale and how people feel living and working on a military base, and personally it was a huge wake-up call.
“But what it also does is reinforce everyone’s desire to carry on, redouble the effort and make sure all these sacrifices are worth it.”
Miss Lun takes her mind off the job by planning her marriage to Capt Berry, of the Queen’s Dragoons Guards, at her former college in Oxford.
They met while working in South Sudan to prepare the area for the split from the north, and now both are working in Helmand – although on separate bases.
Miss Lun said: “You have to be quite creative when you live in a military base – we tried to recreate Christmas day as best we could.
“Tom went to the base’s only shop and bought everything they had, made makeshift stockings and wrapped the presents in brown paper.
“I like to have a good post-lunch walk at home, so after Christmas lunch we went for a nice walk around the military base. The sun was shining and the sky was so blue, but we were surrounded by barbed wire.”
Miss Lun will continue her work in Afghanistan after British troops leave the country in 2014.