Meet Dr. Omobola Sobanjo, leading Abitibi-Témiscamingue's fight against COVID-19

·2 min read
Dr. Omobola Sobanjo has learned French and adapted to life in Quebec's remote Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, where she was one of the key players in the fight against COVID-19. (Annie-Claude Luneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Dr. Omobola Sobanjo has learned French and adapted to life in Quebec's remote Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, where she was one of the key players in the fight against COVID-19. (Annie-Claude Luneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Graphic designed by DestaNation Creative Agency
Graphic designed by DestaNation Creative Agency

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

In a matter of weeks, Dr. Omobola Sobanjo became the face of the fight against COVID-19 in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Que., more than 400 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

As a consultant for the region's public health authority CISSS-AT, the Nigerian-born doctor would address the media and citizens daily at the onset of the pandemic — all in her third language.

Sobanjo, whose mother tongue is Yoruba, never imagined herself living in a French-speaking province, let alone in a remote region with fewer than 200,000 residents.

But then again, she hadn't even planned to be a doctor.

"When I was young, I never really thought about the future," she said. "Every time the adults would ask the question [of what I wanted to be when I grow up] I just found it tiring… so I'd just say anything that came up."

It wasn't until her teens, when she learned her aunt was struggling with fertility issues, that she realized she wanted to become a gynecologist and help women with similar experiences.

Her desire to support others led to her developing an interest in public health.

Keeping an open mind

Given the Word Health Organization's multilingualism requirements for staff, she moved to Montreal to learn French and complete her medical residency at McGill University. When the opportunity to work in the region arose, she seized it.

"It was a challenging transition… but I like it," she said. "People are open and welcoming, and there's a lot of opportunity here that people don't even realize."

Sobanjo says although she has yet to encounter another English-speaking Black person in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the region has embraced her.

LISTEN | Dr. Omobola Sobanjo on her role and life in Abitibi-Témiscamingue:

"There was a time when I actually had a cooking session for my work colleagues because they wanted to taste the food from Nigeria," she said. "Those kinds of things help because you feel like you belong," she said.

"You feel accepted. You feel that you have something to contribute."

Sobanjo says that the best way to integrate in an unfamiliar place is by adopting a go-getter attitude.

"When you get somewhere, arrive with that understanding... You don't even need to say anything. It's obvious and people will welcome you because everybody loves value," she said.

"People are drawn to value and they will be attracted to what you have to offer."

The self-described "citizen of the world" says although she's unsure of whether she can call Abitibi her forever home, the region is lovely.

"I don't want to commit completely yet, but I can tell you I bought a home, and I'm getting there."

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

CBC
CBC
Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting