When Grace Maano was a young girl growing up in the Philippines she knew she wanted a career that would serve others, support herself and make her family proud.
Now a general practitioner (GP) doctor with an Advanced Diploma in Obstetric Gynecology and rural generalist fellowship, Grace sat down with us to reflect on her incredible journey from being a young girl begging for college funds in the Philippines, to founding the Mid Coast's first GP specialist clinic for women's health - Hiryaya.
In 1996 Grace's dream of becoming a doctor became more of a reality when she was accepted to study medicine at a university in Manila.
But after the first year of study her family couldn't afford to re-enroll her for the second year.
Instead of giving up on her dream, Grace wrote a "very passionate letter" to a business in her local village asking if they would pay her tuition, which she said she would pay back in installments once she graduated.
"I wrote something like 'I want to finish medicine school but my family can't afford it, can I study now and pay you later?'," Grace recalled.
One of the executives of the business agreed to the offer, which Grace said was one of the most pivotal moments of her life.
I never thought this is where I would be, but it just proves that dreams are so important because they can come true.- Dr Grace Maano, founder of Hiraya MidCoast Women's Health Clinic
"When I would get my grades I would go and show him and ask for my tuition fees for the next month," Grace said.
As soon as Grace graduated from her studies, she told her sponsor she could start paying him back, but he said there was no need.
"I cry even thinking about that now," Grace said.
That day, Grace made it her mission to sponsor kids who want to study but don't have the money, and has now put many kids through their studies just as that man did for her.
"When somebody helps you, you just want to return it 100 fold," Grace said.
The first student Grace sponsored was a high school boy who wanted to study agriculture but was too poor to go to university.
Grace paid for his tuition and he is still working in primary industries in the Philippines.
She also recently sponsored a young girl in Africa to study medicine, and that girl is now a doctor.
"I want to show people that whatever you hold in your mind, you can hold in your hand. I am the living proof of that," Grace said.
Grace said her family were a middle income average family Philippines, but compared to life in Australia it was probably poor.
"When I was in medical school I was eating one can of sardines, dividing one sardine into breakfast lunch and dinner with lots of rice," Grace recalled.
"My colleagues in Australia would complain about having a HECs debt but they just don't know how lucky they are."
I want to show people that whatever you hold in your mind, you can hold in your hand. I am the living proof of that.- Dr Grace Maano
"In the Philippines no matter how poor you are, your parents will do anything to put you through university."
Grace's first job as a medical graduate was in the provincial area where she was the doctor in charge of a 10 bed hospital.
"Because it was so small, I was already the chief doctor of the hospital and I was a fresh graduate," Grace laughed.
Grace then moved to Australia in 2005 and worked as a locum doctor in many areas across the country where she saw similarities to the health situation in the Philippines, particularly with awareness for women's health.
"Remote areas of Australia are like the Philippines - how we are so desperate for doctors and services," Grace said.
"It was actually the locum work that then brought the passion in me to work in rural and remote areas."
Grace then started her journey to becoming a GP obstetrician and gynecologist in 2007, but after many set backs she decided to stop three years later.
It wasn't until 2016 she started the fellowship training with the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRIM) before moving to Taree in 2018 to continue her training.
Grace graduated in March this year (2021) with the Advanced Diploma in Obstetrics and Gynecology which she said was an achievement that was on the back of more than 25 years of hard work and dedication.
It was these experiences - the hard work and passion for women's health in remote and rural communities, and her upbringing in the Philippines - that Grace said inspired her vision for Hiraya.
The practice officially opened for appointments on Monday, November 1 and the feedback has been very positive, Grace said.
"I never thought this is where I would be, but it just proves that dreams are so important because they can come true."
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