Single or Married: How Volunteering Helped Me Redefine Relationship Status

“Single or married?” I hesitantly asked. I never thought that there would come a time when I’d end up asking this question to every person I get to meet. I mean, who does that? What a way to start a conversation than to pry on people’s private lives, right?

But my resent designation as a volunteer required me to ask this overly romanticized question. Yes, instead of spending my most awaited one-month break from work going on trips or hiking mountains, there I was at SM Seaside City Cebu, helping out the vaccination process.

While it’s true that some travel restrictions were already lifted in most parts of the country, I, personally find it taxing to go through all procedures required to travel. Having been used to random and impulsive trips, my lazy ass finds it difficult to plan and do all necessary preparations. To make this long narrative short, I decided to channel the little energy I have to do some community work.

Volunteer Life: A Little Backstory

I am no civic worker. In fact, I’ve always been apprehensive about doing some charity work. But well, the universe always has its way of changing everything you thought you knew about yourself. My first out of Cebu trip happened after the 2013 Bohol earthquake. Volunteers were called to help in the distribution of goods to those affected by the said calamity. What I thought was a fieldtrip changed the way I thought about life, people, and humanity.

Three years after that, I was assigned as the community involvement moderator at work – and was tasked to partner with the company’s social worker in spearheading activities like street children’s tutorials, tree planting and tree growing, providing aid to fire and typhoon victims, and so on. For years it went well, until the onslaught of COVID put to halt all these activities.

What Staying in the Frontline Taught me about Relationships

To help out our medical health workers in the vaccination process, volunteers were called out to provide support in the overall procedure of the community immunization program. Wilma and I were tasked to stay in the registration area, mainly to encode and double-check profiles of patients. This includes asking ‘critical questions’ like: single or married?

Relationship status has become a familiar inside joke among Filipinos. It has been a subject to a number of memes and has somehow shaped the way we look at people of this age. But beyond the puns and self-roasting commentaries, having given the opportunity to ask this question to hundreds of individuals a day, I’ve learned that there’s so much more that we have to learn about our status.

Civil status is just a civil status.

In my limited encounters, I’ve met people who happily announces with conviction their relationship status – both married and single – and I’ve also met those who whisper them like secret codes of an underground association.

While it’s easy to come into conclusions based on what we see in social media, what I think is important is that: we have to respect the choices (or out-of-choices) made my people. Whatever their reasons of staying or staying away from relationships, we should not make it our business. We all have our crosses to carry; should we really add up to other people’s burden?

Marriage requires constant effort.

I’m not always comfortable disclosing myself to people. But I guess we’ve encountered those individuals who are like open books. While the registration process only takes a minute or two, there are really those who, probably in the lack of socialization these days, would try to strike up a conversation. In one encounter, when asked about his relationship status, this father beamed with pride and announced how happily married he was – even indicating the notorious “happy wife, happy life” line. And before I could proceed to my next question, he began sharing how important it is continuously work on one’s marriage to make it last long: to stick with each other through ups and downs, to trust each other, and to choose to live with each other every day of their lives.

Never assume unless otherwise stated.

Staying in the registration allowed me to meet people from all walks of life – from CEOs to contractual employees. There I’ve met a foreigner who can speak better Bisaya than most teenagers, a head of a company who was chased by guards because of his face shield, a journalist who can help you trace your lineage, airport officers who taught me how they keep peace and security in the airport, forest rangers who keep our protected landscapes in the city in check, and many others.

We’ve always been told not to judge a book by its cover. But sometimes, we really have to be reminded about it from time to time. Our status can just speak so little of us. There are many other things that can define who are. We are a tapestry of people, encounters, and experiences – and I hope that whatever we get to impart to other people’s woven story, it’s something good that they can treasure for life.

Beyond relationship status, I guess we have to learn to make better relationships with the people around us and of those whom we encounter. I’m happy to have spent my vacation with fellow volunteers who rendered their time and energy debunking misconceptions, assisting and pacifying patients, and providing a little ray of light in this time of the pandemic. I hope to see you all once again – with no masks and face shields anymore. And probably on the road or on trails real soon.

How to Process Vaccination?

RESBAKUNA: For Cebu City residents, please access this site for online registration. By far, the city has six vaccination sites – University of Cebu Senior High School Department (Barangay Banilad), University of Cebu Senior High School Campus (J. Alcantara Street), Robinsons Galleria, SM Seaside City Cebu, NOAH Complex, and Ayala Center Cebu South Entrance – catering to persons within the priority list.

PROJECT BALIK BUHAY: For companies wanting to have their employees vaccinated, do access this site under PBB and submit all the required documents of your company.