When Tiona Henry-Wynter was nine years old, she was already earning her own money by ironing clothes for people in her community. “I just had to do something”, she says. Growing up, Tiona watched her grandmother work tirelessly, even with a disability, to keep the roof over their head and food on the table, but even then it was difficult.
“I think that was where I learned that in order to survive I would have to work hard, learn to adapt quickly and be fearless in grasping opportunities,” Tiona reflects.
Fast forward to the present and Tiona is a wife, mother and successful Spa Attendant at Sandals South Coast. She seems to be in a better place now but the struggles of her childhood and the lessons learnt remain very present in her approach to life.
When Tiona learned that the travel and tourism industry was closing its doors in the face of a global pandemic, she was naturally devastated but she didn’t go into hysteria at the thought of both her and her husband losing their paychecks. Instead, she immediately started looking around for opportunities.
“I reminded myself that I’d been here before, actually I grew up here; here in this place of uncertainty, I always found a way to stay afloat and this time was no different,” She said.
FROM SPA TO CONSTRUCTION SITE
Around the time of the resort’s impending closure, work was just getting underway for the construction of 20 state-of-the-art Rondoval suites as well as a complete renovation of 112 suites on the resort’s Dutch village.
Tiona actually joked to someone from the resort’s projects team that she would have to seek a job at the construction site not knowing it would have landed on the ear of the resort’s Projects Manager, Renee Keane.
When Ms. Keane called and asked Tiona if she was serious of course she said yes and she started working the week after the resort’s closure. The projects team was clearing furniture and soft furnishings in preparation for the renovation and Tiona was put in charge of sorting and logging items taken from the suites. Immediately, Ms. Keane observed Tiona’s infectious cheerfulness and that she didn’t seem afraid of any task.
“The job was only to last for two weeks but I was very thankful for it and for being able to earn some money,” said Tiona. She mentioned that while going about her duties she learned that one of the contractors needed someone to work as an admin in his site office.
“I believe in asking for what you want and in never losing site of an opportunity,” said Tiona. So she went to Ms. Keane and inquired about the admin job. “I had never worked on a construction site before and I had no idea what to expect, but they said they wanted someone with computing skills and at least I had that.”
So following the two-week job, Tiona started working on the construction site as an office administrator. “I was doing the payroll, sometimes for over 100 workers.” Tiona was also responsible for a daily attendance roster of workers and she issued items from the storerooms and signed for deliveries.
“My experience working on the construction site could not have been more vastly different from what I’d grown used to at the resort’s Red Lane® Spa,” said Tiona.
Almost in the blink of an eye, she went from soothing music, folding towels and preparing romantic massage rooms in a utopia of blissful relaxation where female therapists used their inside voice to loud tractors, cement trucks, hard hats, dirt, mud and a flurry of men shouting over heavy duty drills.
But despite the distinct uprooting from her comfort zone, Tiona says she wouldn’t change a thing. “I’ve learnt so much being on the site, I now know some of the tools and how to operate them, I managed to improve my computing, organizational and people skills and I even learned how to read a blue print,” she notes excitedly.
Fortunately, there are some rays of hope. On October 1st Sandals South Coast re-opened its doors welcoming guests with its Sandals Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness and the joy could be felt not only on resort but throughout the community.
“I was overcome with emotions when I heard about the opening,” said Tiona. “I literally wanted to cry, I was just so happy to be going back to work.”
While Tiona has returned to the calming ambiance of the Red Lane® Spa, she hasn’t said goodbye to the hard hat and boots. When the guys at the construction site heard that she was going back to work at the spa, they were happy for her but adamant that they didn’t want anybody else but Tiona doing their payroll.
“They’ve become like a second family to me,” says Tiona. So these days she juggles her shifts at the Red Lane® Spa with after-hour duties at the site.
“I still do the payroll every two weeks; I order food for the workers and sign off on deliveries.”
Tiona says with Sandals South Coast reopening and other team members including her husband also being back at work, the pressure has definitely eased and for that she’s thankful. However, she also recognizes that these are uncertain times, especially as COVID-19 continues to affect other countries which Jamaica’s tourism depends on.
“I am happy for the opportunities that still exist here at Sandals. My grandmother called me recently and said she has never seen anybody who works as hard as I do,” says Tiona. “But I don’t consider it hard work, if anything I’m eternally thankful to God for the opportunities he’s allowed me even during a pandemic. This is my coping mechanism or shall I say how I’m adapting to the new normal.”