The way we respond to the challenges we face and see in our lives reveals a lot about our character.
Jemma Burrell from the small NSW town of Coonamble, has certainly faced her fair share of challenges and she has done so with courage, strength and determination, and an unshakeable desire to help others.
She says that people who work in the health fields don’t do it looking for gratification but admits that it is so nice to have her hard work recognised.
Audi Foundation – CEF Alumni Community Champion 2021:
Jemma Burrell (nee Miller)
CEF Coonamble, NSW
2009 – 2010
Charles Sturt University
Bachelor of Applied Science (Speech Pathology)
The need to help others seems to be an inherent quality for Jemma. Her sisters would call her ‘Pocahontas’ and her mother remembers her ‘putting bullies in their place’ from the first grade.
She was in upper primary school when her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.
She remembers watching a speech pathologist help her grandmother with eating and drinking and helping find ways for her to continue to communicate by using a whiteboard. She says simply, ‘it was then I decided I wanted to do that.’ This was the moment she knew she wanted to be a speech pathologist.
I would love for other kids from Coonamble to see that if we put our minds to something and lots of hard work too, we can really make a change in our rural communities!
Jemma says while her parents never mentioned it, she knows that things were tough while she and her older sister were at university, supporting their daughters and finding ways to feed the stock when things got dry.
And like so many regional families they weren’t always able to travel and see each other because of the distance – for Jemma and her family, this was roughly eight and a half hours, one way.
She remembers Ginny Taylor from the foundation encouraging her to apply for CEF grant. She says the help was so valuable in decreasing the financial burden on her and her family.
She was able to buy the essentials, and the grant meant she could afford to travel home to see her family a little more. ‘It would have been so much harder without the Country Education Foundation.’
She remembers being so very home sick when she started university, that when she visited home for the Easter break, she was adamant that she was not going back, telling her parents that ‘it just wasn’t for her.’
I hadn’t even driven in a town with traffic lights by myself until I moved down to Albury.
She says her parents were amazing and, along with chatting to an Occupational Therapist, while 4 years still felt like forever, the insights and support she received was exactly what she needed. ‘Once I put it into perspective, I knew I would be able to stick it out and return home when or if I needed to.’
And stick it out she did.
As a graduate she says she had the pleasure of offering services through Ageing, Disability and Homecare. This work took her to some of the most remote NSW areas of Broken Hill and Wilcannia, Cobar, Bourke and Brewarrina.
Lots of kids from the country have these huge travel expenses and they can’t just duck home of the weekend, so it can be quite isolating.
I completely fell in love with delivering accessible, mobile therapy services to remote areas, and I knew this is where I wanted to be.
BECOMING PART OF THE COMMUNITY
In 2017, Jemma married a farmer from Gilgandra, and they settled in the small town to have a family and build a life.
Living in a truly tiny town like ‘Gil’ made Jemma very aware that towns like these often have limited access to allied health services. This, along with her experiences out west compelled Jemma to make the leap from employee to business owner, and she started her private practice in 2018, ‘The Mobile Speechie.’
Now with three little boys, Jemma and her husband keep themselves well and truly busy.
They are primary producers, run an agricultural contracting business, the speech pathology practice and have recently opened ’Little Windmill and Yoga Wellness.’ She says: ’for a pair of country kids in their early 30’s I don’t think that’s too bad! Most days I wake up excited to go to work and not many people can say that.’
I am so proud of Gilgandra, the community spirit and how resilient the people are.
She loves Gilgandra and knows her community has been through so much She has seen it knocked about by 3 years of drought, a mouse plague and COVID-19. She is acutely aware of the toll this has taken on its people, and wants to help, because that is who she is.
BREAKING THE STIGMA
It is the struggle she sees in the people around her, along with her own personal experiences that motivate Jemma to find ways to support people experiencing mental health issues – like opening the wellness house.
Meditation helps bring people into the present moment and allows us to clear our minds. Controlled, focused movements also help strengthen the body-mind connection.
Jemma is incredibly honest and open about her own battles. Having suffered from a severe episode of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) last year, she experienced just how difficult it is to suffer with a mental illness, especially in a regional area.
I feel there is something wrong with the current, mainstream approach which separates our mind from our body, and our psychological from our physical wellbeing.
She is keen to break down the stigma. She wants to support people who struggle with mental illness or experience trauma. ‘I want them to feel safe and to have somewhere they go in their community and feel really supported during my classes. Moving through my physical practice helped me to re-learn to both feel and trust physical sensations again.’
Jemma is always thinking of ways she can use her knowledge, experiences and education to help her community.
She speaks of building relationships with local organisations to provide services to mothers and children who have experienced mental illness or trauma.
She is studying a Mental Health in Yoga course to improve the ways in which she can support those who walk through the doors of their Wellness House and is also currently writing a funding proposal for a free parent training program.
‘These are the types of projects that make my heart sing,’ she says with the kind of joy that comes when you are able to make a difference.