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We decided to nominate Yiana as our first community champion and feature her story on our web page because we think she is a great example of someone who tackles the complex challenges of sustainability with passion, confidence, and grace. It was important to Yiana that her story be shared not for personal attention but to add to the historical account of people overcoming great obstacles to do their part for the environment.
Yiana’s sustainability story starts when she first came to Vancouver Island as a young woman, close to thirty years ago. She grew up in Toronto with both long-time landed/middle-class family and war and famine-impoverished immigrant family members. She spent her early adult years in various service jobs to put herself through higher education, then worked as a journalist, and eventually as a long-term occasional teacher for the East York Board of Education. She found it concerning when she began having many health issues and heart strain in her late twenties, especially since she was a young, fit woman with reasonably healthy routines and habits. It dawned on her that the divisions in her family values, coupled with the industrial setting and its pesticides, low air quality, traffic, noise pollution, and workaholic mindset were taking a toll on her physical as well as mental health. She began teaching children about the giant and ancient, old-growth forests that she had fallen in love with on a visit for a summer with friends on Vancouver Island.
Yiana decided to make the move to Vancouver Island – an unheard-of step for a young Greek-Anglo-Canadian woman on her own that caused estrangement with some family members. Living first in Victoria to attend environmental courses at Camosun College, Yiana spent her first summers here as a guide for a friend’s eco-tourism business, leading tours in the Clayoquot Sound and Carmanah Walbran. While connecting to nature and her new community, she was able to heal and start to feel a real sense of home on the island. She became more involved in the community doing transformational theatre. She composed ecologically themed educational activities for schoolchildren and wrote plays about community and the precious ecosystems that give people life.
To experience living on a permaculture farm, Yiana moved to Salt Spring Island where she worked as a teacher while garden-farming with others and taking up mindfulness meditative practices and community arts activities. This was a turning point in Yiana’s life as she started living more intentionally, spending more time doing creative things that made her happy and allowed her to live more sustainably. She also learned about Waldorf education pedagogy and biodynamic agriculture, which inspired her to become a Waldorf school teacher and biodynamic, garden-farmer. One event that she recalls fondly is refurbishing a play she had written for the Toronto children and staging it with west coast children on Salt Spring. “The Great Emerald Waterfall” play strove to encourage people to live peacefully together for the sake of generations to come, while sharing the Earth’s resources.
It was also on Salt Spring Island that Yiana met her beloved husband, Nick, who shared her passion for the environment and living sustainably. Together, they advocated for meaningful change in their community. The couple moved to Nelson, BC to start their own home and garden, while Yiana worked in a natural health store and then at the Waldorf school there. In Nelson, they were responsible, along with neighbours, for their local water system which made them more aware of the fragility of the entire system. Their concern was not just for their own health and safety, but also for taking care of the forests and protecting the watershed that gave water to other neighbourhoods.
This hit home even more during a particularly hot and dry summer when they experienced major fires, resulting from heat lightning that came dangerously close to their neighbourhood. Yiana remembers this being an emotional experience for everyone involved, especially for the firefighters. The fires were so intense that their community relied heavily on Kootenay Lake for water to extinguish the fires, reminding everyone how important water conservation is. Intense stress caused them to leave Nelson when her husband, who was battling a chronic illness of adolescent origins, wished to return to Toronto for a time to be closer to family.
Yiana observed the industrial-mind versus environmental-mind conflict, playing out in both of their families, as a reflection of the whole of society. Through participation in peaceful protests and visiting India over three years to voluntarily support orphans at a successful ashram that also had environmental sustainability programs in place, she took note of the world divisions between environmentalists and corporations. She hoped for a wise meeting of minds sometime soon. Then, a tragic series of events took place. Farmers in India, feeling tricked by pesticide corporations, began taking their lives. Back in the city, some family members diminished the environmental commitments that she and her husband held close to their hearts. Yiana’s husband Nick tried making peace about it all but was not able to after his father suffered a stroke. This took a high emotional toll on Nick who, still dealing with a chronic nerve illness, took his own life.
Devastated, Yiana moved back to the coast, to Ladysmith, determined to continue with ecological activism and to honour Nick’s legacy. She got involved with the Green Party, which her husband was involved with in its earliest manifestation and had the chance to work with Paul Manly and Elizabeth May. She created a biodynamic garden dedicated to Nick where she spent ten years reconstituting soils, planting 30 trees, and implementing a sustainable irrigation system. At the same time, she did her Masters in transpersonal clinical psychology to overcome PTSD and to help many others, becoming more involved with First Nations’ friends and communities, to cope psychologically with the massive transitions of our times.
Now, she has a thriving backyard garden to provide delicious-nutritious food for herself, friends, neighbours, and her elder father who currently lives with her. She lives consciously and in tune with the seasonal rhythms. Earlier this year, Yiana was able to tell that this summer would be exceptionally hot and dry by observing changes in her garden. Longer and drier summers deeply concern Yiana as they speed up the development of the plants, causing improper growth and potentially threatening healthy seed development. Taking water conservation seriously, Yiana has her own rainwater collection system that she uses to water parts of her garden when necessary. She composts heavily to keep soil humus as thick and absorbent as possible since Ladysmith soils tend to be stony and work like a water sieve.
While Yiana knows that there is no simple solution to climate change, she is certain that if we all do our part to combat this crisis, we will succeed in achieving a sustainable balance of give-and-take within the natural world. Though she and Nick could not have children of their own due to his chronic illness, it was always especially important to them that future generations inherit a safe and livable planet. Yiana feels that she has done her part working as an eco-tour guide for people from all around the world, as a writer on natural, integrated-wholeness themes, as a Waldorf teacher, as a biodynamic garden-farmer, and recently as a clinical counsellor addressing transformational stresses and traumas, including ecological ones.
Throughout the challenges and accomplishments, Yiana attempted to overcome the societal and cultural divides and prove that sustainability can mean making life livelier and more earnestly human-connected for more people. Yiana sees that sustainability is something we need to strive for because our lives depend on it. She asks the question: How do you connect meaningfully to the environment, and how can you share that inner, human richness of connection with people of all different stripes in your community? For anyone wondering where they could possibly start the sometimes-daunting challenge of living more sustainably, Yiana recommends seeking out the many like-minded people here in the islands and in Ladysmith and joining community groups that tackle issues of common concern with a goal of collective creativity and a win-win perspective for all. With a transformational attitude toward life, working together to advance sustainability can be both fun and rewarding.
We thank and applaud Yiana and her loved ones for their sacrifices and for overcoming great and painful hurdles over the decades to support a continuous commitment to the environmental integrity of Vancouver Island for years to come. By protecting and nourishing precious resources like soil and water at her own residence, as well as being involved selflessly in her community in various ways, one could say that Yiana has dedicated her life to sustainability. A comprehensive approach to sustainability not only benefits local ecosystems but also human communities because all of these systems are closely intertwined. As she so wisely said, “Life is complex, if we try to oversimplify it we’re not going to get solutions.”