Crafting a Brand New Life After a Wild Hurricane Ride

Vanessa Winston’s home and business in the Caribbean island of Dominica were destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Starting from scratch, the mother of four fought back and today, with UN support, she has rebuilt her life. 

44-year-old Vanessa Winston lives in Roseau, the capital of Dominica, where she runs a small-scale business primarily making bespoke, hand-made fashion accessories and, and is the President of the UN-supported Dominica Arts & Craft Producers Association, which helps its members to promote their products. 

Hurricane Maria destroyed her home and the workshop where she produced all of her products. Despite this setback, she has bounced back and today is an inspirational example for other Dominican entrepreneurs, even attending the first Commonwealth Fashion Exchange initiative at Buckingham Palace in London.

In early April, Ms. Winston sat down with UN News to look back at the dark days that followed Hurricane Maria, and explain how she has managed to bounce back.

UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Salybia, Dominica, in the aftermath of 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. I was excited to come home and take my business to the next level. I had my workshop, and a small but comfortable home with my children.

But Hurricane Maria had other plans.

On the day it hit, we assumed that the roof would be blow off by the storm, but that we would be safe downstairs, in the workshop part of the house. So, we carried what we could, covered the rest in plastic, and headed down at around 6 PM. 

The ground floor ceiling was made of wood, so we could feel the wind and rain, and the door kept threatening to burst open, or split in two. We heard the fridge and the stove upstairs crashing to the floor, and the ceiling begin to rise up. That’s when my older daughter became hysterical.

I bundled all of my daughters under the stairs, and everyone was crying as the water poured and the winds howled around us. The house was destroyed, but the stairwell saved us. 

After the storm, there were more challenging days ahead. When we looked outside, and saw the state of the mountains, everything was black [the storm transformed the countryside, removing much of the lush green foliage and trees]. Even the surface of the road had been lifted by the winds. I was left with four children and nowhere to stay, but I just had to give thanks that we were still alive.

Right away, the community came together, along with aid agencies like the Red Cross, and the UN. We received cash assistance, which I used for food. However, without a home it was too challenging for my daughters, so I sent them to live for a while with my cousin in Barbados. 

UN News/ Brianna Rowe

Dominica in 2024 shows few traces of the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria

In the meantime I, and the members of the Dominica Arts and Crafts Producers Association, decided to focus on how to bring the forest back to life. Our industry depends heavily on the forest, because most of our products are made from raw materials that grow there, such as coconuts and the different reeds we use to make baskets and jewellery.

But after Maria, we saw that many of the plants and trees were destroyed, so we couldn’t find the raw materials. We sought out the seeds we needed, and we all went out to plant them in the forest. We also taught our members how to get involved in the beekeeping industry, using local wood to build beehives, because the wax from the hives is very important for polishing our furniture products.

When the UN offers business training I always sign up, because they help me to develop my skills as an entrepreneur, and network with other small business owners. This is the kind of support that really helped me to get on my feet and become a success, which means improving myself, helping my members, and providing for my family”.

UN News/ Brianna Rowe

Vanessa Winston is a member of the Dominica Arts & Crafts Producers Association

Rebuilding Dominica

The United Nations has helped Dominicans to recover from Hurricane Maria, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a huge strain on the country’s economy.

  • Following the hurricane, Vanessa Winston received money from the Joint Emergency Cash Transfer Programme (Government of Dominica, World Food Programme, and UNICEF). During the pandemic, she also benefited from the Covid-19 Social Cash Transfer Programme (Government of Dominica & WFP)
  • The Dominica Arts & Crafts Producers Association is receiving funding from the Green Environment Fund’s Small Grants Program, a UN Development Programme initiative, to finance its reforestation projects and beehive construction.



  1. How did Vanessa Winston cope emotionally with the loss caused by Hurricane Maria and what motivated her to start rebuilding her life from scratch?

    1. Thanks for your question! Vanessa Winston faced immense emotional challenges after Hurricane Maria, but her love for her family and determination to overcome the adversity were her driving forces in starting anew. She found strength in the support of her community and the opportunity to rebuild not just for herself, but for her four children as well.

  2. As a small business owner myself, I can’t even imagine the strength it must have taken for Vanessa to rebuild her life after such a tragedy. Her story is truly inspiring and a testament to human resilience.

  3. As a fellow business owner, I can only imagine the resilience and strength Vanessa must have had to rebuild her life after such a devastating event. It’s truly inspiring to see how she has overcome the challenges and emerged as a successful entrepreneur once again.

  4. As an avid follower of stories of resilience and determination, it warms my heart to read about Vanessa Winston’s journey. It’s truly inspiring to see how she has overcome such adversity and rebuilt her life with unwavering strength. Vanessa’s story is a testament to the human spirit’s capacity for resilience and adaptation.

  5. How did Vanessa Winston decide to start her small-scale business after the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria?

    1. Vanessa Winston shared that after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, she drew strength from her community and decided to start her small-scale business to rebuild her life and help others in similar situations. With determination and support, she embarked on this new journey, turning adversity into an opportunity for growth and resilience.

  6. As a fellow entrepreneur, I truly admire Vanessa Winston’s resilience and determination. It’s inspiring to see how she has managed to rebuild her life after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Her story is a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

  7. How did Vanessa Winston manage to rebuild her life after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria? Was the support from the UN crucial in this process?

  8. How did Vanessa Winston manage to rebuild her life so successfully after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria? Was there any specific support that made a crucial difference in her journey?

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