From the heart – Julie

From the Heart’ is where people can write about anything they feel strongly about. It is mainly a Christian personal testimonial slot on how people came to faith and how God works in their lives. It is also a general opinion section about people’s life experiences or something topical they would like to express a view on. Offensive or overtly political/controversial material will not be permitted.

A head and shoulders photograph will also be welcome to illustrate the article but is not compulsory. Please feel free to submit an article(s) in the reply/comment box below and email a photograph to Carol’s email address.

Today we welcome Julie Smallman who would like to tell her story.

Julie’s working life mostly centred around being employed as a Practice Nurse in primary care. Following her role as a Practice Nurse she was involved in a community health project in Salford for the Department of Health, trying to break down barriers and fears relating to accessing health care in the inner city.  This included forming parents’ well-being groups, healthy eating and cooking programmes, offering practical information on a wide range of issues, giving sexual health advice and delivering health education to children in primary school.  

When the project funding ended, Julie started working in a GP practice dedicated to working with people seeking asylum, a job she loved very much.  She was interested in listening to people from all over the world who told her about their lives and the troubles they’d gone through.  She was filled with great respect and sadness about what people had suffered causing them to flee their homeland, countries such as Cameroon, Iraq, Eritrea and Afghanistan. 

As a committed Christian, Julie found it enormously difficult to hear about their traumatic ordeals including rape, torture, religious persecution, etc.  It was an incredibly fulfilling role, especially carrying out physical, psychological and emotional needs assessments with an amazing team of people such as administrators, GP’s, nurses, psychologists, social workers and others before people seeking   asylum were dispersed to various parts of the country. Julie felt it an honour to often be the first person to hear the patient’s story as they arrived into the country and be able to refer to services which could help them.

Julie carried on the full range of nursing duties with asylum seekers who were moved into the area such as giving immunisations, treating those with chronic disease, offering sexual health and smear tests, often working alongside interpreters.  This work expanded to providing a holistic approach so their needs such as housing, counselling and other support could be given.  She got to know many of the families very well during that time and it gave her deeper insight into the human beings behind the statistics.    

Julie says her Christian faith really helped and the job became more of a ministry and calling.  Emotionally it could be very difficult at times to hear about the torture and suffering people had experienced in their home country and the many losses they had experienced.  At times it even challenged her own faith asking why the Lord could allow such abject cruelty to happen. She was amazed that the faith of some of the people who had been so appallingly treated had actually been made stronger.  Many people who had managed to escape were those who had stood up for the rights in their community and were persecuted as a result.

Many myths surround the subject of asylum seekers, especially promulgated by newspapers and television which often don’t tell the human story behind the headlines and statistics.  Julie firmly believes people would not risk their lives in highly dangerous conditions, leaving their families and communities, if their lives had not been in danger and their only option was to flee their homeland.   Despite the popular belief that most asylum seekers come to the UK as economic migrants for the welfare benefits, free housing and health care and to be a drain on our society, the truth is that most of them just want to live freely without fear of being killed or imprisoned, to contribute to the host country and rebuild their lives in safety.

While she was still working as a Practice Nurse, Julie felt the Lord wanted her to train as a counsellor, which she then did.  In her role as a counsellor she has worked on a voluntary basis at the Macmillan Centre and then went to work in the NHS with people seeking asylum in addition to being a volunteer for a charity working alongside asylum seekers and refugees.  This work concentrated on working through clients’ trauma as a result of being tortured in their home country, receiving referrals from GP practices and other statutory organisations or dealing with people who had self-referred.

Julie retired from asylum seekers voluntary work two years ago when she became a very proud grandmother in order that she could help her the family with child care and get a better work-life balance.  She still carries on private counselling two days a week as well as trying to follow a fitness regime and support her husband Graham with his pastoral duties.

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