Dr Lisbetty Tampubolon (Indonesia) is a UN Volunteer Medical Doctor, currently serving in South Sudan. She joined the ranks of the United Nations Volunteer (UNV) programme, following in the footsteps of her husband Dr Rudolf Frans Maulany. On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, Dr Lisbetty shares her secret to keeping mentally healthy when the going gets tough.
In November 2016, I started my assignment with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) as a medical doctor and was directly assigned to Bentiu in Unity State. After three years there, I was re-assigned to the capital, Juba and have been working here since then.
I am currently on my third UN Volunteer assignment. My first mission was in Timor-Leste from 2008-2012 and my second was with the UN Mission in Liberia, where I was assigned in Monrovia from 2014-2015.
Keeping mental health in check
I feel like the assignment in South Sudan is the most challenging mission I have taken on. When I was first assigned to the country, I was placed in the centre of the conflict, with difficult living conditions I had not expected.
We had limited facilities, and this caused a heavy daily workload. As a medical doctor, I was not only in charge of managing the clinic, but also providing training, attending meetings and coordinating the medical contingent in the area. Indeed, unpreparedness brought stress.
Fortunately, this did not last long. My duty and responsibility as a medical doctor who must help sick and injured people motivated me to soon adapt to local conditions.
For volunteers seeking to serve peace in tough locations, my advice is to bolster their mental and physical readiness well in advance. UNV and the host entity should provide them with enough information concerning conditions in their place of assignment, and they should prepare, so they can avoid undue stress.
I have learned how to maintain my health and peace of mind. I often listen to music and exercise regularly at the gym provided by the UN in the compound to release stress. Every weekend, the welfare committee usually organizes events in the cafeteria for people to mingle and socialize. Having a rest and recuperation break every six weeks is very helpful, where I can refresh my mind, lower my stress level and maintain routine health conditions.
On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, I would like to share four suggestions to safeguard your mental health:
- Prepare mentally and physically to face challenging conditions, so you are not caught unaware.
- Practice positive habits to maintain your mental health, for example, by listening to music, engaging in sport, participating in activities organized by the UN and, of course, sharing with family and close friends.
- Discuss any concerns with your supervisor or a counselor and your UN-provided doctor; we're in this together.
- Use every R&R opportunity to take a break from your routine; this benefit is meant to provide relief from an unstable and stressful environment, take advantage of it.
The value of family
Family is always the first thing that comes to mind when I think about my volunteer work. Although we are far apart, my husband and I are united by the same motivation – volunteerism.
My husband is also a UN Volunteer, but we were initially stationed in different parts of the country. For three years, we could only meet when we are on rest and recuperation leave together every six weeks. Nonetheless, communication was not a problem, thanks to the good facility provided by the UN in each location.
My husband and I having been getting full support from our children and family during our more than ten years of duty as UN Volunteer Medical Doctors. They are happy and inspired by our activities and experiences.
Although our entire family can only gather together on occasion, we make the most of it. We enjoy spending time together and making them feel happy at home by cooking their favorite foods.
My advice for colleagues who have already joined or are keen to join UNV is to make sure that your family understands and supports your duties and challenges as a UN Volunteer. Try to communicate often, plan joint vacations and spend time together.
For us, family is a priority and the source of our pride and stability.