Influencer Dinah Veeris
Interview February 2021
Could you share with us some information of your family life?
I am 81 years old, I was born in Curaçao and I have two sons and 4 grandchildren. I come from a family of 4 sisters and 3 brothers. My mother was 97 years old when she passed away. My mother has meant a lot to me as she exemplified the “fight for life” type of attitude, she used to be a dressmaker, she used to work in the shop of my grandmother and this attitude, taught me to fight for the things I believe in.
When I grew up they used to compare me with Lidwina from Schiedam and I couldn’t cope with this comparison, so I decided one day to change my name into “Dinah” as this name made me feel who I really am. And this name sticked as my first name, dating back when I lived in Sint Martin.
My father on the other hand was the opposite of my mother’s character. He exemplified the “joy for life” and he had a more humoristic way to look at life. He used to make fun out of my mother when we were spanked by her in those days and that softened the pain. So in that sense both my parents made me become who I am today.
Could you share something of you eductional background and your experiences?
I started as a help-teacher as I went to school in a time where boys had more opportunities to study back then compared to girls. Boys were offered the opportunity to go and study in Holland, if you wanted to become a fully authorized teacher. But I was diligent and gradually went to all the different teacher courses that were offered on the island and ultimately in 1972 I went to Holland to study to become a fully authorized teacher. Later on in Curaçao I became a fully authorized graduate in MO pedagogy. After working some years as a teacher and after I got interested in “herbs”, I went to California School of Herbal studies that had a large country estate, and here is where I acquired additional knowledge on herbs.
Important to mention
I became a very self-aware woman after I went to live in St. Martin for some years. Living in St. Martin, I got acquainted with certain writers that I never have heard from before, like Angela Davis and Richard Wright and this was a real shock to me. They basically made me become aware of my cultural history and the history of slavery. These authors made me radically change my look and I became one of the first woman in St. Martin and Curaçao, that had a afro-look. I really appreciate what my parents have gone through, but my parents never talked about the past.
You are a well-known brand as THE EXPERT on herbs in Curaçao, how did this all started?
It all started when I was in Holland studying “Theater, stage and acting”. The reason I wanted to learn that is, because I could use it to enable normally very shy students, to transform and become more their authentic selves through “stage and acting”. While I was studying in Holland I had to do a project about culture. I decided to use “herbs” as my subject matter. My mother used to have a “herbs garden”. I discovered that my mother had so much knowledge about the effects of herbs, that it transformed my way at looking at herbs once and for all. I became so aware of how little I knew of my own culture and I got carried away. After interviewing my mother, some neighbors, some people in Banda Abou, some people in Bonaire and Aruba and writing this all down, it meant the start of my career as a local “herbs”-expert.
I wrote two books
Back in Curaçao after finishing my studies in Holland, I basically held two jobs, one as a facilitator of teachers and another one, where I interviewed lots of elderly and this ended in two books I wrote.
One with the title “Remedi i Kustumber di nos Bieunan” and “Afrikantje”. And one day I read an advertisement of the California School of Herbal studies and I decided to send them my manuscript written in Papiamentu of my first book and they became so enthusiastic, that they accepted me at the school. They didn’t know Papiamentu, but they could understand the scientific names of the herbs I was describing, and this changed my life again. I followed classes from 6 AM till 6 PM and the certainty by which the curriculum was explained by the teachers, that what made me change and become a different Dinah. I was also taught to make how to make the herbs products and when I came back to Curaçao I decided to quit my job, looked and bought a piece of land and started collecting herbs for 5 years, much longer than I originally thought it would take. Helped by “Baba”, a neighbor that one day, just came by and offered to help me. So we started and went to Banda Abou and other places on the island at 4 AM to collect over 300 species of “medicinal herbs”. This is where the two books are all about. They have been translated in three languages.
How important are herbs in the healing of people when they have any kind of disease?
For years, since we were living in nature, herbs have shown us how much they can help us. Kings kept herbs and used them when needed and it is mentioned in the Holy Bible. In India you have “Ayurveda” and here as I was exploring and taking interviews from our elderly, I became aware of how much more potential herbs have. Nowadays things have change and it is becoming more and more a way of life, where herbs are supplemented by medicines. This idea that herbs really can help, is always with me as an extra motivation, as I know for sure that it does help and it has a big potential
Is the acceptance of herbs growing according to your experience and becoming more main stream?
Yes, it is becoming more mainstream. I sometimes get visits from doctors to our herb garden and via the questions they ask me, I ask them if they are a doctor and at times they are. I am proud also to see what is happening on Facebook and via App, also the younger generations that are making their own soap and bread. Yes, it is becoming more mainstream.
When my sons were younger they use to tease me that I had become a goat, as we were vegetarian and of course when they had a chance to eat meat elsewhere that was not at home, they would do it. Nowadays, one of my sons has studied “Nature Medicine” and “Ayurveda”, he is now my right hand. I am doing the more practical aspects of our business and he is more into the theoretical aspects. My other son does not work in the business, but assisting me with IT problems and he is my freelance agent.
Is the interest in your garden growing? And do you also have people from abroad that are interested in your work, right?
Basically our garden is open for locals and tourists, especially for tourists on cruise ships, where they offer tours to visit our garden. What makes our garden so unique is not only the story we tell about the medicinal effects, but also the history about the different herbs. We also offered a 3 months long course and which had included a stay at our venue. Because of the word of mouth, our popularity has been growing.
Yes, we do get request from abroad, especially for tropical herbs that are not easily found. We do some export of herbs. Before the Corona crises, our popularity was going up. We would have people from the US, France and Holland with Google map just drop by and buy herbs for themselves and for their friends. We would have visitors from cruise ships, we provided our spa product to Hyatt and Ritz Carlton in Aruba and to Barbara Resort & Spa in Curaçao. This was very good for our business. We collaborate with Curmade that is linked to the Postal Services. We are one of the 12 businesses doing that. They can pick up a package at our garden and deliver this any place in the world and they take all the necessary steps also to collect the money for us and they are working very diligently to make all steps move more easily. Due to the corona crisis, our income have dropped 80 % and this has forced us to become very creative. We closed down our location at Molenplein, we started with a delivery service of our products, we won a 2nd price for entrepreneurs organized by Sambil and this gave us the opportunity to stay at Sambil rent free for 7 months.
We are offering workshops every month on Saturdays, with a new subject matter, and we do get some financial support from the government, but then how creative do you have to be to survive. We barter with Dolphe van Stapele as they were looking for a piece of land and some apartments for their retreats, to start their Ashram and he makes all the films and videos we want in return. We can then offer these productions online to potential clients, be it men or women. We will also start offering a course to share tips to elderly on how to stay and maintain their overall health, as it makes me sad to see how some elderly degenerate because of lack of, for example, physical movement, wrong diet, etc
We also needed to re-negotiate with our employees and lower the amounts of hours we pay them, 4 days instead of 5 days and we are grateful that we have reached an agreement. We had the choice to shut down and where everybody would loose their jobs or re-negotiate their hours.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
I love what I am doing, and I do believe that we have a mission to fulfill in this life. For me, it is to create an environment where we can be healthy and happy as we are achieving our life’s goal. These could be small things that a person needs to change, to be together with others and to be healthy.
Apart from your passion for herbs you are also very passionate about nature? Where does this interest come from?
I love to dance, laugh, hiking, swimming in the morning. They all help to keep you healthy. My passion for herbs goes hand in hand with nature. Working with herbs means planting their seeds in the soil, being in nature to harvest, to find lost herbs, walking in the rain barefoot, embracing a tree and open my arms to receive all what nature is providing us
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
I have financial challenges due to the Corona crisis and we are doing our utmost to be creative and to keep what we have build up to now. Every challenge we bump into, we try to turn it around into an opportunity.
If it is lack of rainwater because of the climate changes, buy water instead. We have lost some “herbs”, well go look for them to replace the lost ones. Every thing you go through, find a solution and use challenges as an opportunity to learn and reached your goals anyway.
We believe that that attitude is called “opportunity thinking”. Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up? How does that work for you?
I would go outside and go into meditation under a tree, I might even embrace the tree and ask for help. As I sit there I would hear voices and they would tell me “use that herb “yerba di sali”” and I believe in it. I believe in the Universal Intelligence and this gives me a lot of strength. Sometimes when I am tired I would take a nap and wake up full of new energy to “go on”. This makes me humble and grateful as I am allowed to serve others.
How are you trying also to keep up with your personal knowledge and skills levels? I have understood from your website that you have gained a lot of knowlegde from some lederly, where did they gained there knowlegde from?
I study a lot especially in the evening. I browse the internet and look things up on the internet and see if the scientific names have changed and if needed, translate it. I follow online courses. This is how I keep my knowledge up to the par.
What are your strengths?
Just “go on”, don’t stop and look at all possible options to “go on”.
How would you describe Dinah in some words or one sentence?
A great woman.
Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career and your personal life?
My mother and father. Frank Martinus Arion because of the way he was. Camille Bailey, the director of the school of St. Martin where I used to teach. During the period that I lived in St. Martin, I bumped into the author Angela Davis and some literature related to the topics she addressed. That answered so many questions I had in those days in terms of culture. It helped my to get to know myself better, it helped me get better self awareness.
Furthermore, my grandaunt, she taught me the joy of reading. She made me read from books up loudly and she used to correct my reading and as I grew up, I went to the library and I became so passionate about reading that when everyone has already gone to bed to sleep at times, I would still be reading. And then one day I discovered that my grandaunt couldn’t read herself, but still managed to instill the love for reading in me.
What is a trait that is still work in progress?
I want to improve the contact and intimacy with my children and I am working hard on this now.
What was a defining moment in your life?
I would say the day I decide to get divorced. I was in those days a big change for a woman to file for divorce. It took a lot of courage to do this. I couldn’t dare the double standards where men were allowed to have relationships and children outside their own marriage. I was financially independent of my husband and as the social pressures were strong against my divorce, I decided to move and go and work in St. Martin in 1969 just some months after the 30th of May. I can recall the 30th of May vividly, as I had to hide my then headmaster of the school where I worked in the back of my car to bring him home safely that day. Living and working in St. Martin for me was somewhat liberating, as I could express my opinion as I wanted to and they were more pro-change in those days.
And also the Corona crisis nowadays is a defining moment for me. It was and still is, a stressful period in my life. How can I give up everything that I have build over the years. It isn’t easy. It really changed my whole life, everything almost came to a still stand and the isolation that came because of social distancing. It made me stand still and reconsider hard, what I am doing and what I need to do to still “go on”.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you, let’s say 15 years from now?
They love me.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, recession and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
When I see how many people are working hard and working on improving our nature, like in symptrophic farming, I consider it to be a repetition of how our elderly were farming growing peanut, sesame, mais, beans, pumpkin, watermelon, melon… Everybody was giving each other a hand. Everybody is giving what they have. I see this being repeated now by some youngsters. Another aspect of this type of farming is that all plants help with their nutrients to help other plants. That is what makes me optimistic about the future.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I enjoyed this interview.
More info or connect
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Dinah Veeris, is an energetic, strong willed, self-aware, passionate, independent, fun-loving entrepreneur and author, whom has become the Number One expert on herbs in Curacao. Her knowledge of local herbs that has been developed over the years, has made Dinah renowned locally and internationally. Her attitude to “fight for life” has made her a person that doesn’t shy away for the difficult but yet necessary steps to be taken during the course of her life. Her love for reading combined with her interest in herbs, as she discovered the great potential herbs have, made her an expert in the history and medicinal effects of herbs. Her entrepreneurial mind and her drive to follow her passion, at some point in time made her quit her job and dedicate the rest of her life full time to collecting over 300 species of medicinal local herbs and at the same time developing her garden “Den Paradera” into an educational and entertaining local and international well known attraction, offering her herbs also for use to local and international customers. With this approach and her determination, we are convinced that Dinah will overcome her challenges she faces due to the Corona virus crises that has affected her business deeply and that she will continue to impact those interested in herbs for years to come. That is why we dearly love and deeply respect Dinah and consider her part of the 250 Influencers of the island representing the Business (wellness) sector.