Dr. Rick Zander exchanges valley life for volunteering in Philippines



Living and working on a remote island in the Philippines, Dr. Rick Zander could hardly be more removed from the life he established as an accomplished doctor of veterinary medicine in Ballard. While the distance keeps him from the place he calls home, Zander would have it no other way.

A practicing veterinarian for 24 years, Zander’s love for the valley came about in an unconventional way.

When he and his wife, Esther, were involved in a car accident while passing though Los Olivos, they returned to the valley for a follow-up doctor’s appointment and immediately fell in love with the area. It wasn’t long before they purchased an existing veterinary clinic in Ballard and relocated from Pismo Beach.

After becoming involved with the local Rotary chapter, Zander participated in a group study exchange program that sent him to the Philippines to explore the culture and share ideas. As the team leader of his group, he worked alongside other medical professionals and had the opportunity to see the Philippine facilities where patients were treated.


“In my vet hospital, I had more sophisticated equipment and better facilities to treat dogs and cats than they had in their hospitals to treat humans. That was a wake-up call,” Zander said. Their eyes opened, Zander and his fellow Rotary members began shipping used and surplus medical equipment from the United States to hospitals in the Philippines.

Zander’s work in the Philippines continued when he became involved in two more projects organized by the Rotary.

One of the ventures involved providing prostheses for individuals who had lost a limb, while the second project was focused on providing irrigation to about 300 farm families.

As he began to devote more of his time to these causes, both Zander and his wife recognized that they had to make a choice. “I started spending more time away from my business than was healthy for it, and my wife said we had to do one or the other. She said ‘I’ll go with you no matter which path you choose,’” Zander explained.

And in December 2000, Zander had chosen his path — one which led him directly to Negros Island in the Philippines. It was a decision he would never regret.


“Down in southern Philippines it’s just beautiful,” he said. “I don’t know how to describe it. The people are great and it’s a laid back attitude. It’s like going back in history 30 years.”

But Zander has a lot more on his mind than simply enjoying the scenic surroundings. As virtually full-time residents of the island, he and his wife constantly work to improve conditions for the community. Partnering primarily with local physicians and teachers, they provide hands-on assistance as well as donated items shipped from the United States. For Zander, however, the focus is on the children.

Provided books, computers, and healthy meals, they are much more likely to succeed in school.

While the Rotary Club has helped the project significantly, Zander still relies on outside donations and assistance.

He is looking for storage space in the valley area to keep pallets of books awaiting shipment to the Philippines. Other items like farm equipment, school books, and laboratory equipment such as pipettes, beakers, and microscope slides are in high demand.

For the local people of Negros Island, Zander has become a welcome presence, and he doesn’t intend on leaving anytime soon.

As he explained, “When you walk into the schoolyard and the kids recognize you and hold your hand, how do you describe that? You’ve made a difference for somebody.”

For more information, contact Rick Zander at (805) 637-5921.