Famine, genocide, civil unrest and natural disasters are situations most of us would avoid – but one remarkable Royal Wootton Bassett woman has dedicated her working life to helping people in the worst trouble spots of the world.

For more than three decades, Julie Linter has travelled the globe in times in crisis – whether working on nutrition programmes in Africa, offering support to those affected by the recent hurricanes, or helping separated families find one another again.

She was born in Swindon and educated at Hreod Parkway School, before going to Guildford University to study nutrition. After working as a dietician for a year, Julie packed her bags and headed for Papua New Guinea, as a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) volunteer.

“I worked as a nutritionist in a local minister’s department, doing education, surveys and so on. I had a fantastic two years. I enjoyed the travel, and living and working with people I would not otherwise have met. I saw a lot of the country, and I was doing something useful,” she said.

The experience inspired her to do more, and in 1988 she joined the staff of Save The Children, travelling to Ethiopia, where she lived for two and a half years. A terrible famine had devastated the country between 1983 and 1985, as a result of drought and civil war. which led to hundreds of thousands of people dying. Julie worked in a surveillance programme in the aftermath of the disaster.

“We had teams of staff who would go out and monitor the situation, measuring children to see if they were nourished, looking at animals and doing general surveillance, particularly in remote patches of the country. We would feed this information to the ministry – so we would have early warning if something might go wrong.”

Despite the challenges of the work, the country was beautiful: “The terrain was amazing, and I enjoyed the chance to work with local people and understand the culture. I had a team of 25 local staff and spent time with them.”

Julie said she had never been worried for her safety in the job.

“We had built up our organisation and had total trust in the team I was working with,” she said.

She also spent a year in Uganda, supporting the feeding and monitoring of children displaced by fighting in the country.

“You want to do your best for people, but you have to remain professional, and do what you can without getting too emotional about it – or you couldn’t do it,” she said.

Next came a posting to Somaliland and then northern Sierra Leone – which proved to be scary.

“I was a car that was held up a couple of times,” she said. “There was an element of lawlessness in the country. At night you could hear gunfire, but you just got used to it.”

After all these travels, Julie needed a break. She returned to Wootton Bassett and bought a house. But the troubles of the world still beckoned, and she worked in Malawi, and later Rwanda, after the devastating genocide of 1994.

“I came back to Wootton Bassett then. My parents were happy to have me closer to home, and I met my husband, and we got married,” she said.

In 2000 Julie joined the British Red Cross, promoting health and social care within Wiltshire. After two years and a reorganisation, the county’s Red Cross branch became part of a wider patch, including Wiltshire, Avon and Gloucestershire and Julie became manager for the International Family Tracing Service.

“The service aims to reunite people following war, disaster or migration,” she said. “We’re still working on some from World War Two – mostly descendants – as well as new asylum seekers and refugees.

“One of the team in Bristol is helping a woman from Syria. She travelled with two children – in their late teens – who went on one boat while she went on another. They had no idea where they were going to. She ended up in the UK.”

They carried out a search through the databases of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and finally located two young people living in Manchester who might have been her children.

“They fitted the description. The Manchester team talked to the young people, but they had been told their mother had died. We arranged for them to talk on the phone, and as soon as they heard her voice they knew it was their mother,” Julie said.

Of course many attempts to locate family members do not end so happily – as many people cannot be found, or have died, or even do not want to be found.

As well as her work in the family tracing service, Julie has been a volunteer for the Psycho-social Support Team of the Red Cross for the past 10 years. The team has 50 members across the country, and they are deployed to help when British nationals are caught up in a difficult situation – such as the evacuation from Libya during the Arab Spring of 2011 and the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean.

“We support people in the immediate aftermath of a situation, when they are traumatised,” she said. “This comes before counselling – it is immediate support and we have to know how to listen. Sometimes people can be very angry.”

She said the support could be practical and emotional, knowing how to respond in the right way.

“We can reassure people they are not going mad and that the way they are feeling is a normal reaction,” she said.

During her most recent expedition in the aftermath of the hurricanes, Julie was busy meeting people being brought out of the British Virgin Isles and Dominica.

“The military were doing a fantastic job. I was talking to people. I went and sat with one lady who told me she suffered from depression, and she had gone out there on her own for a holiday – and she had been alone through the hurricane.

“One family had been living in Dominica for seven years. Their whole house had collapsed. All they had were two hold-alls of stuff and they were heading back to Britain with two bags. They were traumatised – they had lost everything.”

Julie said the teams were well trained to deal with these situations without being phased, and how to remain calm. The volunteers have to be mindful of their own welfare too – they have a buddy and a debriefing.

“I love the Red Cross,” she said. “It has a heart, and it is a sign of hope for people. It is like a big family. I love the principles and humanity.”

She said: “I do like the travel element, and being somewhere I have never been before.”

When at home and unwinding after dealing with such traumatic situations, Julie said she liked reading, walking, and travelling holidays with her husband.

“I would like to revisit Papua New Guinea,” she said. “I also loved Uganda. The people are so friendly and welcoming, and have a great sense of humour. They tease each other and are cheeky – they know how to have fun.”

The family tracing service is looking for new volunteers to help with casework. Volunteers receive special training, and are called upon as and when required. If joining this vital work appeals, please contact Julie by email: jlinter@redcross.org.uk.