Building a new life after a devastating hurricane — a global problem

Vanessa Winston, 44, lives in Roseau, the capital of Dominica, and runs a small business that primarily produces bespoke, handmade fashion accessories. She is also the president of the United Nations-supported Dominican Arts Organization. The Craft Producers Association helps its members promote their products.

Hurricane Maria destroyed her home and the workshop where she produced all her products. Despite this setback, she bounced back and today serves as an inspirational role model for other Dominican entrepreneurs, and she attended the first Commonwealth Fashion Exchange at Buckingham Palace in London. We are also participating in the initiative.

In early April, Winston spoke to UN News about the dark days after Hurricane Maria and explained how he bounced back.

United Nations Photo/Ric Bajonas

Salibia, Dominica affected by Hurricane Maria

“Back in 2017, life was looking good. I had just returned from a trade show in Barbados with two other members of the association. We were excited to get home and take our business to the next level. I had my own workshop, children and a small but comfortable house.

But Hurricane Maria had other plans.

On the day of the disaster, we thought that the roof would be blown off by the storm, but that the workshop part of the house downstairs would be safe. So we carried what we could, covered the rest with plastic, and headed down the mountain around 6 p.m.

The ceiling on the first floor was made of wood, so the wind and rain could be felt, and the doors were in danger of cracking or breaking in two at any moment. I heard the refrigerator and stove upstairs crashing to the floor, and the ceiling began to lift. At that time, my eldest daughter became hysterical.

I bundled all my daughters under the stairs. And everyone cried as the water poured down and the wind howled around us. The house was destroyed, but the stairwell saved us.

More difficult days lay ahead after the storm.When I looked outside, the mountains were pitch black. [the storm transformed the countryside, removing much of the lush green foliage and trees]. The road surface was also swollen by the wind. I was left with four children and nowhere to live, but all I could do was be grateful to be alive.

Communities quickly rallied together, and aid agencies such as the Red Cross and the United Nations also pitched in. I received cash assistance and used it for food. However, it was difficult for the girls to not have a home, so they decided to send them to live with a cousin in Barbados for a while.

Dominica in 2024 shows little evidence of Hurricane Maria's destruction

United Nations News/Brianna Rowe

Dominica in 2024 shows little evidence of Hurricane Maria’s destruction

In the meantime, myself and members of the Dominican Arts and Crafts Producers Association decided to focus on how to bring the forest back to life. Our industry is highly dependent on forests, as most of our products are made from raw materials that grow in forests, such as coconuts and various reeds used to make baskets and jewellery.

But after Maria, many plants and trees were destroyed and raw materials could no longer be found. We all went to the forest to find the seeds we needed and plant them. We also taught members how to get involved in the beekeeping industry by building beehives using local wood, as the wax from beehives is very important for polishing furniture products.

I always sign up when the United Nations offers business training. It will help you hone your entrepreneurial skills and network with other small business owners. With support like this, I was able to rise up and succeed. This means improving yourself, helping your members, and providing for your family. ”

Vanessa Winston is a member of the Dominican Arts Organization.Crafts Producers Association

United Nations News/Brianna Rowe

Vanessa Winston is a member of the Dominican Arts Organization.Crafts Producers Association

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