It’s not very easy to find peace these days, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with all sorts of news on social media. However, for a certain Filipino doctor, he was able to find peace within himself. “Siargao allows you to be at peace,” says Dr. TJ Manalang, a municipal health officer in General Luna, Siargao. “You are at peace whatever happens to you the entire day,” he added.
Dr. TJ knows that well as he struggled to find balance between pursuing his passion as a public health servant and taking care of himself and his mental wellbeing.
WATCH: Pinoy Doctor Moves to Siargao to Improve His Mental Health
He said even before he graduated, he had a sense that he really wanted to be in Public Health. He served as Doctor to the Barrio in San Narciso, Quezon Province for two years.
After a while, however, he was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. “Marami lang talagang nangyari sa akin during that time,” he said. (“A lot of things happened to me that time.”)
“Pati ‘yung pagod ‘din of learning na ‘yung dream mo to be a public health servant, hindi siya madadala ng pure passion lang,” he added. (“I got tired. Especially when I learned that your passion to become a public health servant cannot be sustained by pure passion alone.)
He was eventually assigned to Siargao where he said he finally found peace. “Dito ko magagamit ‘yung skills ko, while at the same time, nakakapaghanap ng peace within myself,” he said. (“This is where I can use my skills, while at the same time, find peace within myself.”)
When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, the island of Siargao was not exempted but the community, along with medical practitioners like Dr. TJ found a way to safeguard everyone from the virus.
“Ang mandate sa amin, lahat ng bisita ng Siargao na hindi taga dito, kailangan ma-sure mo na walang sakit,” he shared. (“We were mandated to make sure all the visitors in the island were not sick.”)
Dr. TJ and a team of nurses along with the surveillance officer went around the island checking every hotel and accommodation to make sure no one was sick with the virus.
They also had to deal with stranded tourists—some were suffering from anxiety and other psychological problems. “‘Yung anxiety nung entire thing, ‘yung anxiety ng lahat ng nangyayari, ti-nry naming i-address,” he tells Summit OG. (“We tried to deal with the anxiety brought about by the uncertainty of what’s happening through townhall meetings.”)
Dr. TJ said they would constantly update the community by telling them what they’re currently facing, what can possibly happen, and what they’re going to do about it.
Although no one knew what they were supposed to do, Dr. TJ said the community stepped up and found ways to help each other during the first few months of the pandemic.
Hotels and accommodations that closed offered drives to help anyone in need while residents did their best to follow government mandates and protocols.
“The pandemic showed that we need to get back to our roots,” Dr. TJ said. “Ang dami sa GL (General Luna) na tumulong and it made our jobs a lot easier,” he added. (“So many people from General Luna helped.”)
The sense of community in Siargao made it easier for the residents and the healthcare workers there to manage the stress brought about by the pandemic.
“What compels us to stay is [how the island] brings out the best in you so you can pursue whatever you want,” Dr. TJ shared.
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