Veniesha Dennis -The concrete queen
With a chuckle, Veniesha Dennis describes herself as the 'Concrete Queen', and with good reason.
She is solidly adroit as a a concrete sculptor - a craft that she has taken on as a career. On any given day while on the job, Dennis is a vivid picture of concentration as she applies herself with exquisite dexterity to her expertise in concrete.
And when her handiwork is done, an assortment of concrete products is transformed into magical masterpieces. Like a diamond plodding through the rough into the magical sphere of priceless jewels, Dennis daily releases her proficiency to transform cement into thrilling works of art.
Her skills as a concrete artist were realised after life ushered her through a series of twists and turns to Sligoville, St Catherine, where her imagination shone through her craft.
Fascinatingly, the 26-year-old had initially set her eyes on a career in sales and marketing at the University of the West Indies. But then, fate caught up with her and changed the course of her life. "I have had a lot of career changes," chuckles Dennis at the recollection.The mother of one daughter recalls that, before she even ventured into the academic halls of the university, she dabbled in early childhood education, but authentic fulfilment evaded her.
"Firstly, I did a diploma in early childhood education and I taught for one year. And then I realised that I wasn't comfortable with the education system," she tells Outlook.
"I felt like I couldn't help my charges in the way I wanted, so I left that and went to Heart Runaway Bay and did housekeeping," she adds.
When she was done, Dennis worked with the Riu Hotel in Mammee Bay, St Ann, for three years.
It was not all smooth sailing for Dennis, who was born in the tough, lower-income area of Central Village near Spanish Town in St Catherine. "But I was taught to always be independent," she stresses.
Dennis graduated from Ascot High School with six CXCs, but with money in short supply, she immediately ventured into the industrial arena and started to eke out a meagre living.
"My ambition was never to become rich, but to make a difference in my country and show the people of my roots community that there was a better way of life," she shares. It was then that she envisioned helping children, considered to be among the most vulnerable in society.
"I successfully completed a diploma in early childhood education and I did marketing and sales and completed that with distinctions," she reveals.
But then she found her true love - her craft. "My love for concrete started three years ago after I realised that the places I could get a sturdy long-lasting concrete bench was only from the man on the corner, and it wasn't of any great standard," she shares.
It was then that she began the search for sturdy seats in the local market, and realised that she could make a difference by finding a setting solution in Jamaica.
"It wasn't easy sitting around the computer for hours," she says. "But this is what I wanted and I had to learn it, come hell or high water. Of course, I went to men on the streets and their reaction was, 'you too pretty, you need to go work in an office'," she says laughing. "But I wasn't demotivated and I kept my eyes on what I wanted."
She reveals how she met someone online in Jamaica who was willing to teach her. "After practising every day, I became better at it and my passion grew for concrete," she says.
In spite of her enthusiasm, Dennis learnt concrete sculpting the hard way.
"It is a very disciplined task and one bad move can ruin the entire product," she explains. "When I first started, it took me 10 days to complete a small chair. Now I'm a pro at it, taking me one day," she chuckles. "I am motivated by passion for what I do and the fact that every day, I learn something new about it."
For Dennis, the products she creates are unique because they are handmade and no two are the same. "It cannot rot like wood.
It is sturdy, beautiful and lasts for generations," she declares.
To young people, she said: "I would say, start manufacturing. Create jobs instead of waiting on a job and the Government. I want to say, support young creative minds, especially women who have the willpower to step into what is known as a 'man's concrete world'. Manufacturing is the way to grow."
Dennis said her products should be preferable to imported plastic products. "These leopard-effect benches are authentic to Jamaica and this can be an alternative for importation of plastic seating," she asserts.
"Furthermore, it is in keeping with the 'Build Jamaica, Buy Jamaican' concept," she stresses.