Elizabeth Iwunwa and I chatted during that 24-hour period in January where we had a snowfall warning, a freezing rain warning, and then a rain warning. We began the conversation in typical PEI fashion, talking about the weather. “I just tend to go with the flow, like the weather we’ve been having these past few days,” she chuckled. It was immediately evident that Elizabeth is a deeply connected and committed person, who understands the ebbs and flows that we are faced with regularly.
She was born in Lagos, Nigeria and made the move to PEI when she was 16 years old. “In an instant, your whole life changes.” Since then, she completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology and earned a Master of Business Administration (Global Leadership) from the University of Prince Edward Island. “In grad school, I started to think critically and strategically about how things might work with my heart in two places (PEI and Nigeria).”
Education has always been an integral part of Elizabeth’s life. “My dad always joked that we are to get our master’s before we were to get married.” She recalls moments from her childhood when her dad would encourage them to read the news and they’d have discussions about it together in the evenings. We laughed as we both realized that this was a fun and exciting activity for eager learners like us, even though some kids might roll their eyes at the very notion of studying the newspaper! “There is so much laughter and joy in learning, even from the news!
“I grew up in Nigeria and we watched the local news but also kept ourselves knowledgeable about other parts of the world by watching things like the BBC and CNN. I also spent a lot of time reading old newspapers and magazines, helping inform my perception of and place in the world.”
This early introduction to global affairs and the goings on around the world was a foundation in Elizabeth’s ongoing journey of knowledge acquisition and application. “It’s not enough to just learn something or say something, we must have the courage to act on that knowledge.”
With a solid foundation for life-long learning and a keen desire to support community, Elizabeth inherited the confidence of knowing that no matter where she goes in the world, she will be ok. As her mom says, “no knowledge is lost, and no one can take your education and knowledge away. Once you have it, it’s yours forever.”
Over time, Elizabeth started integrating her knowledge into policy and practice. She is a Policy Analyst at the Indigenous Relations Secretariat with the Government of Prince Edward Island.
“Our personal lives are not separate from politics. I’m always thinking! Policy by day and writing by night and weekends.” Her work draws on community wisdom and evidence-based practices that supports the whole person.
“I’m interested in how politics, history, and economics impact people in their day-to-day lives.”
As an avid reader and writer, Elizabeth is interested and drawn to both fiction and non-fiction, weaving creative, academic, and other forms of writing. “Reading and writing helps me to continually conceptualize my place in the world.”
Elizabeth’s first book, Íjè: An Immigrant’s Voyage into Prince Edward Island Life, is being published by Pownal Street Press (February 21, 2023) and it will certainly further contextualize her place in the world. As I listened to her talk about the motivation for and the process of creating this book, it was clear the reader will be taken on a beautiful journey as they engage with a variety of interviews, essays, photos, and visual arts that fill the pages of Íjè. “I love to immerse myself in the conversation as it’s happening, and this book is a demonstration of that immersion.”
Though there are stories about immigration and immigrants already out in the world, Elizabeth notes that “our stories are often told by people to whom foreignness is a foreign thing. The stories are often one-dimensional and depicts immigrants in specific ways that don’t necessarily align with our actual experiences and explorations.” She wanted to have the space to write about the whole scope of experiences to allow for more depth and nuanced conversation and learning.
“This book is for my community, first. Secondly it is for anyone who wants to learn and engage more. It is a window by which you can see us as whole people.
“I believe in the dignity of all people, and I believe this book will help people learn some things that they don’t know.”