New (part time) Slave Lake resident had a career with the U.N.

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Something you don’t run into very often in Slave Lake is somebody who worked all over the world for the United Nations. But such a person has recently become a resident (part time, at least), after retiring from many years with UNICEF.

Isaac Achoba and his wife Mary, decided to spend much of their time in Slave Lake thanks to their son Andrew and his wife Loveth recently becoming parents. They have other children and grandchildren, but little Ave – three months old – is the youngest.

The Achobas come from Nigeria in Africa. It’s a tradition, Isaac explains, for grandparents to pay closest attention to the family member who most needs their support. In this case, “our youngest granddaughter is here, so we chose Slave Lake.”

The Achobas have been permanent residents of Canada since he retired from UNICEF.

“Nigeria is home,” he says, adding that with it being in the minus thirties on the thermometer, he wishes he was there now. “But Canada is our second home.”

How the Achobas came to be Canadian residents goes back to a decision Isaac and Mary made about their children’s post-secondary education. `They were living in Ethiopia at the time, and the older of their five kids were getting close to finishing high school. The question was where would they go and how would it be done.

The answer turned out to be Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. They bought an apartment there, and three of their children stayed there and attended Thompson Rivers, including Andrew, and all did well and are doing well.

But why Canada and not somewhere else? Isaac says it had a lot to do with the impression made on him as a young many by a Canadian in Nigeria.

“There was a priest when I was growing up. He was my best friend. He made us love Canada. He gave us an impression of Canadian hospitality.”

So that was in his mind when the time came to start sending off the children to university.

Meanwhile, Isaac continued his career with UNICEF, which provides programs in support of children in developing countries. After Ethiopia, he worked in Kenya and then a couple of years in Bangladesh, starting in 2012. In 2014, he was transferred to a regional UNICEF office in Kathmandu, Nepal, and three years later to the organization’s head office in New York City.

“I was a director of UNICEF support programs, in 122 countries. I retired last year.”

Isaac makes a point of mentioning his wife Mary’s role in his career success and in the subsequent successes of their children.

“She sacrificed her career to support the children and me,” he says. “Without her I don’t know how I would have been able to cope.”

Isaac and Mary are coping these days by dividing their time between their children – which mainly involves going back and forth between Slave Lake and B.C.

All are university educated and have good jobs. One works for Canada Mental Health, in Kamloops. Another is a pilot, living and working in Abbotsford; yet another has a degree in bio-chemistry and works in Chilliwack. Their oldest has a master’s degree in nursing.

Nigerians have a high regard for education, Isaac says, and are willing to work very hard. Their government leaves a lot to be desired, he says. There are problems in Canada, he acknowledges, but the system is mostly working. And its immigration policy fits well with the situation of many Nigerians – that being their high level of education and a desire for better working and living circumstances.

“The policy is welcoming,” Isaac says. “It could be better, but…”

Speaking of governance, Isaac has taken an interest in how the town council manages things in Slave Lake. He helped his son Andrew in his campaign last fall.

“I heard and saw the need for balance on council,” he says. “People that are left behind – they need to be on the table when decisions are made. I did that work (with UNICEF) for 27 years.”

Mary and Isaac Achoba, in New York City.
Photo courtesy of the Achobas

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