Each year the Royal Bank of Canada awards 25 inspiring and deserving Canadian immigrants with the title of “Top 25 Canadian Immigrant of the Year”.
This year, out of 75 finalists vying for one of the top 25 spots, three of them are Filipino-Canadians. The Philippine Canadian Inquirer will be profiling these three finalists in upcoming issues.
Running and expanding a business while at the same time raising a 14-year-old son as a single parent is a daunting task, but for Maria Nieves Santos Grieves, it’s nothing that she can’t handle.
“Having your own business is not easy, but when you love what you do it becomes second nature. It does not feel like work. There are no days that I am not upbeat about going to work. Early mornings, I report to the clinic and make sure through the work week to cover all three branches,” she stated on her bio at canadianimmigrant.ca
Born and raised in Pasig City, the third oldest out of four siblings, Maria lived a normal life in the Philippines. She went to university and received a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy, which got her a job out of university at a hearing clinic. She worked there for eight years.
But one day she made a pretty big decision. Her sister had immigrated to Canada earlier on, and was now pregnant. Maria’s parents wanted to visit her sister, and Maria decided to join them.
“I was really busy and stressed, so I said maybe I’ll check it out. So I took about two months vacation. My boss was actually worried that I wasn’t going to come back. I said I’ll come back for sure. Until I met my husband,” she said.
So in 1999 Maria joined her parents when they went to Canada, and Maria ended up staying.
Maria’s story played out like so many immigrant stories do. She started out working in all sorts of jobs, like working at a dollar store, selling Registered Education Savings Plans, and working at a call centre. Maria wanted to work in the hearing industry, but she had to swallow her pride in order to help make ends meet.
“It’s kind of degrading for me, feeling that way, but I understand I’m in a different country, different people, different culture, so I know I have to start from the bottom,” she said.
But Maria, who now had a growing son, got her break into the hearing industry one day thanks to a routine checkup.
“My son had a stutter, so I had to bring him to speech therapy, and then at the clinic they tested his hearing, and I found out I could apply for a job there”, she said.
Unfortunately Maria did not have a drivers license, which was required for that job as an Audiometric technician, as she would have to be driving around to various sites to do hearing tests for kids at different schools.
But shortly afterwards Maria found herself at another hearing clinic, this time as a receptionist. She worked there for three years. After that stint, she moved to another hearing clinic, but shortly after that move she decided to make yet another big move and open up her own clinic.
“I realized that when I was in the hearing clinic for three years my boss really trusted me, so I can really kind of decide things on my own. And when I went to the second clinic I was being controlled more. I wanted to do a lot for the client, but I couldn’t do it. So that’s when I decided that if I have my own clinic, then I can do a lot better for the client. I can offer more service to them. I’m not controlled by anybody,” she said.
So in 2009, Maria and a partner opened up Surrey Hearing Care Inc. The partner owned the company that provided the audiometer used for evaluating hearing loss, while Maria provided the testing.
“If you have a booth, a machine, and the knowledge, then you can start,” she said.
After six months of operating Surrey Hearing Care Inc., Maria bought out her partner.
In 2012, Maria opened up a second clinic, also in Surrey. In 2014, she opened up a third. And in addition to these clinics, her company also operates a mobile hearing van that can do on-site testing at schools and industrial sites. The mobile hearing van is also used so Surrey Hearing Care Inc. can provide free hearing tests to various communities at events.
In recognition of the growing success of Surrey Hearing Care Inc., Maria was a finalist in the Surrey Board of Trade’s sixth Annual Surrey Women in Business Awards this year.
At the end of the day, Maria recognizes the struggle that immigrants in Canada face, having gone through the process herself.
“I know what it means to toil and work and have a family. I am a single mom to a 14-year-old boy and balancing lifestyle and business is not easy. That is why I believe it is critical we as immigrants help and support each other so that we will not be afraid to take risks and succeed in doing what we were trained for, attaining our dreams for ourselves and our children,” she said.
Maria Nieves Santos-Greaves is a finalist for the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards for 2015. You can check out Maria’s bio and vote for her and other candidates at canadianimmigrant.ca/canadas-top-25-immigrants/vote