Dads on a mission

Brothers Dr. Eric Pius Cembrano & Dr. Joselito Rosauro Cembrano are dads on a mission

IT'S not only the surname these two men have in common. The brothers Cembrano, Jojo and Eric, are both in the medical profession, devout husbands to their wives (who are medical practitioners as well), both are parents to three kids—Jojo and Rosevic have Kyla, 24, Obi, 22, and Celina, 18, while Eric & Gina have Dia, 21, Matt, 19, and, Jose, 17, and both are “fathers” to countless children who, today, are smiling with pride and joy.

To these siblings, “family” extends to more than what is bound by blood. Having raised children they can be proud of (some following in their footsteps) and securing their future, Jojo and Eric are even more driven to pursue a passion—to continuously put their practice as plastic surgeon and dentist respectively to its utmost benefit without personal gain and help transform the lives of those who need them most for the better.

The doctors at work. Jojo (lfet) & Eric (center) at the recent Operation Smile mission

For years now, these dads have been volunteering for their “other family”, the Operation Smile, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that provides free reconstructive surgery specifically cleft lip and palate to children. Their tandem takes a good role in the organization, Eric as dentist is part of the screening and preparatory process and Jojo is part of the surgical team, the end product of which is a beautiful smile on a child’s face…on theirs as well.

One of the thousands of children who received the gift of smile from Operation Smile

Get to know the siblings Cembrano as fathers to their families.

How did you get into Operation Smile?

Jojo (J): During the second year of my fellowship training in Plastic Surgery, my mentors brought me to an Operation Smile mission in Iligan, I remember the experience of being able interact with plastic surgeons from all over the world. I learned a lot from that mission. Ever since then I was given the opportunity to be sent in missions.

Eric (E): Through my brother, Jojo.

What is the most fulfilling part of being with Operation Smile?

J: Being able to help, meeting a lot of people who eventually become your best of friends, the opportunity to travel and experience the culture of the country up close and personal. This experience is so palpable that it sometimes overloads your senses.

E: The unselfish dedication of a human being to help.

How often are you in a mission? What was the farthest/remotest region you have traveled?

J: In the mid 90's I was doing 5 to 6 missions per year. The farthest would be La Youne in Morocco, and remotest would be in Lake Victoria, Kenya.

E: For local missions, as often as it fits my schedule, and for international missions (outside the country), 3 times a year.

Which do you consider as most fulfilling mission?

J: The mission to Minsk, Belarus thought me a lot. The mission presented with a lot of logistical and political challenges.

E: Aside from changing lives, sharing my knowledge to other dentists in the care and treatment of a facially deformed child.

How many kids have you given the gift of smile to so far?

J: That would be in the thousands. We still see them at the Operation Smile Cleft Center for Mindanao, as their treatment almost involves their lifetime.

E: I never had a chance to count in my 16 years in volunteering for Operation Smile and DSM Happy Teeth Foundation.

Personally, what was the most touching moment you have experienced as part of the Operation Smile that you have shared to your children?

J: My Kids help when they are able to. Most touching would be they would go on missions with me and I see them help out in whatever capacity they could. My youngest girl Celina, for example, got to be involved at an early age she played with the children at the playroom prior to the operation. She asked me why they were different. In addition to the most simple, genetic answer, I told her too that they were also Gods special children.

E: The experience that they themselves were doing the mission alongside with me.

I invited my daughter to join the Iligan mission, to which she gladly accepted. Soon after, she spent her time off school in the succeeding local missions even without me. Then my sons followed joining the missions.

The Plastic Surgeon & his family. Jojo with Celina, Obie, wife Rosevic, his mom, & Kyla

How do you manage family time, work and Operation Smile?

J: The quality of time is often the main component in creating wonderful memories. We often go wakeboarding during weekends. Missions are scheduled, hence could be managed when and where to volunteer. I scaled down on missions and now concentrating our efforts to create the very first real craniofacial center down south.

E: Time management on a tight rope.

Are any of the family members part of the team? How do you encourage them?

J: They have all experienced going to missions. They try to do whatever they could do. They’ve been gofers… go fer this and go fer that. They have helped in the medical records, play with children in the play room. The children encourage me not vice versa (The playroom is an integral part of Operation Smile patient processing. This is where the children are instructed what to experience prior be operated through play. Hence the child will not be traumatized).

E: Yes, my sister Mianne, a nurse, is a volunteer in Operation Smile, and so are my other sisters who donated a lot during missions and in the building of the cleft center. I never encourage them, it is just an infectious thing that you will get hook once you hear the work done by the volunteers.

The dentist & his family. Eric with Matt, Jose, wife Gina, & Dia.

How is it being a father to your family & the extended, growing family of children of OS?

J: I have learned to nurture, accept individuality and the uniqueness of every child. Understand that each of them will have their own individual needs.

E: Responsibility, the loving care, and the inherent behavior that you learned from your dad.

The one important lesson you have imparted to your kids?

J: You have to ask that with my kids. My perception maybe wrong.

E: Living life in the service of others makes it richer.

It’s making the world filled with happy, smiling faces one child at a time, and to these dads, no mission is impossible. I salute you Jojo and Eric! Happy Father’s Day to you and to all dads!

If you have the heart to do voluntary participation and an undying dedication to help, you too can be part of the Operation Smile. To know more, visit Operation Smile Cleft Center for Mindanao on Facebook.


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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 15, 2014.