For Sithara Fernando, the Fort McMurray fire represents a time of transformation in her life. She evacuated the city with her pets and a lot of baggage that she would only begin to unpack once she was safely back in Edmonton, the city in which she grew up.
“I had this idea in my head that if I tried hard enough, and if I lied enough to myself, that I could become this person that was straight.” As a queer person of colour working in the oil and gas industry, Fernando was used to blending in.
“I really thought that if I went up north and got the job, bought the house, got a car and kind of checked off all of these boxes that everything in my life would be good. It just wasn’t,” says Fernando. As she drove on Highway 63 towards Edmonton, she began to reflect on the life she was leaving behind.
“All of the material goods that I thought were gone were just about trying to fill this void, and I was profoundly lonely. I knew I had to make a change in my life.” That change started with Fernando’s entrance into the world of civil rights and social activism.
The Pride Centre of Edmonton became Fernando’s new home, and she flourished as the board chair serving Edmonton’s LGBTQ2S+ community. During her tenure as a volunteer and development lead, Fernando tripled both the amount of funding the centre receives and the monthly members served, all while maintaining a full-time position as the program chair of the Energy and Environment Programs at NorQuest College.
Long after the fire moved on and the smoke has cleared from Fernando’s life, her personal growth fuels her wish to serve.
“It’s important to find community around you that is supportive, that can help you thrive. Sometimes that means leaving your community and leaving jobs that provide a lot of financial stability. But it’s better to be happy than to just have things.”