Daniela Fernandez

Program Coordinator - Professional Mentorship Program for Highly Skilled Newcomers

Daniela is a first-generation immigrant originally from Colombia, who has dedicated her life and career to community development and the empowerment and coaching of youth and newcomers looking to develop their employability and leadership skills. She is a highly intuitive person and healer. She is continuously striving for growth and personal development through her own passion projects. She is an emerging writer and artist, and her love of anthropology, cultures, and human imagination informs her work and lifestyle.


What are you most proud of professionally? And who or why?

I am a deeply spiritual and intuitive individual, and my personality and sense of humanity have always driven me to infuse passion, meaning, and purpose into everything I do. From a very young age, I was always called to engage in activities and projects that would have a positive impact on the lives of people around me; and though this silent pledge to myself started out as a whisper, it became a roar once I had the agency to make my own choices regarding my education and professional path in life.

Since completing my university degree in Environmental Studies and Human Geography, I have participated in a variety of projects that all aim to empower the stakeholders involved so that they can improve their wellbeing and quality of life. I am proud of the fact that professionally, my work has contributed (amongst many other things!) to bringing potable water and public health projects to rural communities in Honduras; to building the capacity of those who would form their communities' first ever Public Health Committee; to the construction and maintenance of medicinal and edible gardens for rural communities in Nicaragua; and to the education, empowerment, and growth of hundreds of youth across Canada, Latin America, and Africa, thanks to the many workshops, programs, and forums I have facilitated through different capacities. I am proud of the fact that I continue to stand by that promise I made to my young self to find ways to be one of the "helpers," and to make a positive social impact in my community, wherever that may be at the time.

All of the experiences I have been privileged enough to have to travel, co-create with, and learn from countless individuals and youth over the years, have allowed me to become the adaptable, pragmatic, creative, conscientious, and eloquent leader I am today. Working to empower and help others, while simultaneously blossoming into the well-rounded professional and individual I am today, continues to be one of my greatest accomplishments.

What’s your vision for Atlantic Canada in 10 years? What’s our biggest opportunity now?

I must confess that while attending university in Sackville, my thoughts and ambitions were centered around living anywhere else but New Brunswick after graduation. Little did I know, that even after working and traveling in Latin America and Canada, the Universe would bring me right back to where I started, allowing me to create a home for myself in Moncton. While it was a twist of fate that work led me here initially, I am now immensely grateful for the potential and spirit I see in this region.

Given the global trends towards sustainability, a return to Slow Food and Slow Living, and an incredibly pressing need for work-life balance, I see that Atlantic Canada is poised to compete with other population centres where the fast pace of life, competition, and lack of human connection are driving people to make a change towards wellbeing and building community. Atlantic Canada is positioning itself as an increasingly diverse region that is ever more proud of its natural riches, its biodiversity, its growing business sector, its cultural preservation, and its innovation and creativity in addressing the massive challenges of an aging and declining population. In my opinion, the biggest opportunity we have right now is to create a sustainable, innovative, fiscally-responsible, and planned out region that continues to build on its existing assets to create an attractive, socially-just, and diverse region where we can all live, play, work, learn, and enjoy. Many have tried before us, and we can benefit from their experience and best practices to make our region a leading example in the revival of local economies, healthy communities, and sustainable development.

What was your greatest stage of growth? What made it a shift for you?

My first job after university took me to Honduras to work with an NGO focused on carrying out Public Health projects in rural communities. This was the first time I moved out of the country on my own for a whole year to learn, work, and grow as a newly-minted professional. Many challenges were thrown at me that year, including safety and security incidents, an abusive relationship, isolation from my family and friends, sharing a living space with 19 people, and working in a loosely managed office made up of multiple ages, cultures, and languages, in what was considered the most dangerous country in the world at the time. Needless to say, this was a year that sparked an era of tremendous growth for me.

The circumstances in Honduras eventually took a toll on my mental health and led me to decide to look for other work opportunities, and thankfully, I secured an opportunity to supervise international youth exchange programs through Canada World Youth. Looking back, this is where the major catalysts for change and growth in my life manifested in the form of a group of colleagues/mentors who came from all different walks of life. They taught me everything I now know about feminism, social justice, work-life balance, governance, self-care, indigenous knowledge, art, music, spirituality, and friendship - all pillars of my identity today. To this day, this group of friends continues to inspire, reassure, and celebrate one another. They constantly serve as models of the type of person I aspire to continue to become, and they act as a compass to point me in the direction of the folks I aim to be surrounded by so I can build my "tribe" wherever I may be.

What’s your favourite or most read book or podcast?

I have many varied interests and I consider myself a continuous and curious learner. Podcasts are one of my favourite tools in the world, since they allow me to learn on the go, and reflect on the many insights humanity has regarding our existence. Socio-cultural and spiritual podcasts are likely my favourite because they encourage reflection, inspiration, and introspection. Some of my all-time favourites include:

  • Modern Love (beautiful inspiring essays on love and its many facets, complexities, and expressions),

  • Dear Sugars (an honest and thoughtful discussion on the complexities and challenges of human relationships),

  • This American Life (the anthropologist in me loves pondering interesting and quirky social themes across societies), and,

  • Radio Ambulante (the one Spanish-language podcast I listen to since it keeps me connected to my cultural roots by way of storytelling around political, social, or hard-to-believe stories from across the Latino diaspora in the continent).

What’s your deepest learning from this past year? How did/will you apply it?

I have been working in a really challenging environment this past year, where my patience, optimism, trust, and boundaries have been tested repeatedly. While this is not the first time I find myself in these circumstances, I feel like this time something clicked and I finally understood a powerful realization: I have the power to decide how I react to situations and circumstances in my life. As Charles Swindoll put it "We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

This has been an incredibly powerful lesson, because it has allowed me to claim back my power, my confidence, and my energy, as well as control what I choose to invest myself in. Seeing the impact that this environment has had on my physical and mental health at times, was a catalyst for this lesson to crystallize. I say so, because listening to my mind and body is what made me realize that my wellbeing is more important than my work, and that if I didn't take care of myself and my energy, I would no longer be able to serve others in the way I aim to.

Today, I am more discerning of the relationships, friendships, and projects that I choose to invite into my life, and I am living a healthy, mindful, peaceful, and pleasure-filled life because of it.

Who’s inspired you, directly or indirectly? How have they inspired you?

My grandmother: for continuing to be a tough and loving gal well into her 70s despite the challenges brought on by being widowed in her 30s and having to raise 6 daughters on her own as a self-trained seamstress. She has never let anything in life stop her from forming a family full of strong, compassionate women, 3 generations in.

My mother: for raising me on her own after having the courage and confidence to leave a challenging marriage to my father many years ago. She has always taught me the importance of being independent and self-reliant, so that I can still be whole even after walking away from partnerships/projects/friendships that no longer serve me. Now that I am an adult navigating many of the twists and turns of life like she did, I also admire her for everything she has been able to accomplish - especially as an immigrant, and as mother. That last one is the toughest job in the world, and it garners all my admiration and appreciation every time I stop to consider my own thoughts on family and children.

Also, the youth, newcomers, and community leaders and advocates I have worked with until now - they continuously humble me with their resilience, drive, and devotion to their goals. Though I have often worked as an educator and counsellor, they have all taught me more than they realize.

What would you have done differently?

Nothing, really. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I now see every experience as a formative lesson in life. What I am working on doing differently now, is believing more in myself and my own capabilities to tackle anything in life. It's the process of self-love I am working on right now.

What are the principles you live by?

I think a defining moment in my life that shaped the principles I now live by, was my first encounter with clinical depression. Understanding it, accepting it, and working through it became a priority for me, because it threatened my life. Approaching mental health in a more academic way, learning about it, and discussing it with supportive counsellors and friends allowed me to gain a lot of my power back. I also realized, however, that our minds are fragile, our societal dynamics harmful (think: social media and lack of human connection), and our taboos too dangerous for the silence they create. Therefore, some of my most important driving values soon became "compassion," "kindness," "vulnerability" (read: courage!), and "honesty." These allowed me to create more solid and profound relationships with those around me, while creating a network of support for those that might need it. My friends all know how open I am to talking about struggles, sex, love, relationships, mental health, spirituality, and life, and they know that my aim is to support them without judgment so that they can accept, process, and grow.


Community Connector and Program Coordinator, Feminist, Leader, Educator, Healer, Writer, Traveller, Artist, Social Justice Advocate