Dr. Joseph Zobian
Fate has a funny way of working.
In 1988, Joseph Zobian (left, in blue) was stationed in a remote mountain village near San Marcelino, Zambales, Philippines. The recent college graduate was there with the United States Peace Corps, a volunteer trained as an agricultural-forestry specialist to help farmers create sustainable upland farms.
That same year back home in Pennsylvania, his father, ophthalmologist John Edward Zobian, crossed paths with Dr. Guillermo DeVenecia, a native of the Philippines who was planning a surgical mission to northern Zambales, not far from where the younger Zobian was staying.
In January 1989 the father and son met up at the town’s provincial hospital to join DeVenecia and his volunteer team on their mission: provide much-needed eye care and surgery, at no cost, to the hundreds of residents who could not afford it.
“In the Philippines it costs about $1,000, at least, to get your cataracts fixed. Of course, if they don’t have that money, they just go blind,” says Zobian.
The experience made such an impression on both Zobian and his father that over the next 10 years they would return to the Philippines to assist DeVenecia and his traveling eye clinic.
“I wasn’t an ophthalmologist yet ... so by becoming an ophthalmologist I could continue participating in the missions,” says Zobian, who today is a practicing ophthalmologist with offices in Waipahu and Kahala.
In 2000 DeVenecia and wife Marta established the Free Rural Eye Clinic in San Fabian, Pangasinan, and to this day continue to save the sight of those who need help most. “We created this hospital in Pangasinan just for poor people, just for eyes,” says Zobian (pictured on left with one such patient). “They come from all over the Philippines, and if they’re truly poor - we check them - then we’ll fix their eyes.”
Zobian and his wife, Dr. Fritza Tan - who is also an ophthalmologist and also happened to be a part of DeVenecia’s original medical team 22 years ago - continue to volunteer with the eye clinic, even bringing their sons John, 17, and Michael, 16, along for the journey to observe their work.
“It is our hope that they too will be inspired to dedicate their lives to helping those in need,” says Zobian, who just returned from his most-recent medical expedition in January.
“I look forward to it every year,” he says. “And there’s a great need; if we don’t go and do it, it doesn’t get done. I feel compelled to do it, but I also enjoy doing it.”
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