How I Quit Working With The Canadian Government To Do Community Service In Nigeria

September 7, 2020

Being a woman means different things to different people. I had a friendly chat with Dr Ebi Awosika, a senior technical assistant to the president in the office of the vice president on community engagement. It started out with me trying to understand what the hardest part about being a woman is to her and ended with her telling me about the sacrifices she had to make because of her love for community service.

Tell me something interesting about yourself

I am a physician.

Wait, you are a physician as in a doctor-doctor?

Haha. Yes. Quick background on me. I am a medical doctor, what Nigerians would call a consultant actually. Also, I specialise in internal and occupational medicine. I got my first degree at the University of Ibadan in 1991 before moving to South Africa with my husband to practice medicine. We migrated to the united states together where I ended up working as a national program director with the United States Department of Veteran Affairs for 13 years before taking an early retirement.

Ma’am, Did I hear you say you retired from making dollars?

Haha. It wasn’t quite like that. It has never been about the money for me. I have always been interested in community service, so when I got the chance, My husband and myself set up our own practice in the united states. Two practices actually, that deals with mental health. Oh, by the way, my husband is also a doctor but a psychiatrist.

Wow. I like how you casually just threw that in like it’s nothing… God when?

Haha. It’s all about the service for me. Everything I have done has led up to me serving the community. I have a masters in public health and also picked up an assistant professorship at the University of Minnesota. So, when the opportunity to work as a senior technical assistant to the president in the office of the vice president on community engagement, I felt this is where I am needed to create massive impact.

Omo, Your resume is very impressive. So, What happened to your practice in the United States?

Thank you. My practice is still there. Before I left, I played more of an administrative role. I saw patients but not as often. I will tell you though that it is incredibly challenging to run a business. Before taking the early retirement, I went part-time first and I had to juggle being in Minnesota where the practice is and Washinton DC where I worked part-time for the US government. When I went full-time private practice, I still took a job with the Canadian government but it was medicial consultancy. It took a lot but by the time I was needed in Nigeria to serve, I had a discussion with my family and with their blessings, here I am.

Dr Awosika being conferred as a fellow of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Health.

You left Canada for Nigeria? Mad oh.

I was invited to serve so yes. 

What do you think stands out about you to other people?

I like to do things differently. As a strong believer in God, I like to imbibe the spirit of excellence. Whatever I find myself doing, I give it my all. It must be outstanding. This has helped separate me from others because there is always a special difference in whatever I do.

Tell me a little more about your faith. 

I gave my life to Christ in 1991, when I was 22. Ever since then, I have been an active Christian. I am currently a minister in a church called Strong Tower Parish in Minnesota. There, I provide premarital counsel for people who are getting married. I also manage the media department in church, seeing as it forms a significant part of my life and that of my family.

You have done a lot in your lifetime. What would you consider the hardest part of your work?

Which of them?

Ohhh wow. Flex. The most recent one here in Nigeria.

I work with out-of-school children and it’s amazing how many children are out of school, especially the girl-child. Trying to empower women and youths and seeing how many more of them still need to be empowered. The challenge here is that even with all the work done, there is still more that needs to be done.

I personally don’t like to think of them as challenges because the person I work for, the vice president, sees these things as opportunities. Also, the issue of mobility, in terms of safety and accessibility.

Working for this administration, how do you personally deal with Nigerians who have lost faith in the government?

These people have a right to expectations and because of the many years of less than good or great leadership, we are not where we need to be as a nation. The expectations from the people were that this administration will bring automatic change but things take time.

I found that when I talk to people about what the administration is trying to do, they are really receptive. In the past, I have gone around the country doing radio interviews where I encourage Nigerians to call in and ask questions. It helps people to have an understanding of what is being done.

What is something you wish you knew earlier that could have made your life considerable better?

When I went to South Africa to practice medicine, I discovered something they do that I wish Nigerian medical school would adopt. When you train in Nigeria as a medical doctor, you can work for someone or assist them but you are not empowered with the skills to set up your own practice.

In South Africa, you are being trained to not just be a doctor but to go into the rural areas and function independently. For me, this was something I had to learn and I truly wish it was a part of our educational system.

What would you consider the hardest part about being a woman?

As a woman that is a professional, a minister, a business owner, a mother and a wife, the most challenging part has been juggling all the demands on my time, my emotions and energies. The desire to be a good mother and wife has to be balanced with the demands of my profession, career, ministry and business.

Sometimes the demands are mutually exclusive, leading to varying priorities. As a woman, it’s tempting to feel guilty when progressing in one’s career path. There is a feeling that doing that is taking time away from my family.  Accepting that I am human and therefore prone to mistakes, and far from perfect. Acknowledging that it is ok to say “no” has been a lifeline.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes. I want every woman out there to know that whatever they are going through, they are bigger than their challenges and they have so much potential and power. Never get defeated by your struggles, keep fighting and God will see you through. 

Eris Ekanem

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