GIV Bahamas News

Exuma Marathon to support students displaced by Dorian

After a sell-out last year, the fifth annual race on Nov 9 th  is expected to draw a record number of participants from the Bahamas and around the world

At L.N. Coakley High School, it has not been a typical start to the year.

There is all the usual buzz, excitement and nervousness in the halls, as students return to classes. But this year, there are at least 40 new faces at L.N. Coakley – children that have been forced to abandon their homes in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.

“It has been roller coaster ride this summer with the opening of school,” said Don Barr, the principal of L.N. Coakley, the largest high school on Great Exuma.

“So far we have 40 students with us from Abaco and Grand Bahama, and we just registered a few more recently. And they are doing amazingly well. Kids are incredibly resilient, even though many of them have lost everything. And I mean everything. That’s why I wanted them in class as soon as possible because it takes their minds off the tragedy.”

And what a tragedy it has been – dozens reported dead, billions in damage and thousands of lives impacted forever since Hurricane Dorian first made landfall in Abaco on September 1 and then carried on to Grand Bahama. To assist families on Exuma, the Exuma Marathon has announced that it will make a minimum donation of US$5,000 to put towards school supplies, school fees and any other incidentals for students in need.

This pledge is in addition to the usual Pompey Scholarship, given annually to a graduating student in Exuma to help with tuition at the University of The Bahamas.

Participants in the Exuma Marathon will also be encouraged to bring school supplies with them for donation, such as calculators, geometry sets and other items that tend to be in short supply.

“Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by this horrific tragedy,” said Peter Nicholson, President of GIV Bahamas Inc, the largest owner at Grand Isle Resort and a key sponsor of the race.

“The scope of the need can be very daunting, but for our part, we would like to step up and make this year’s Exuma Marathon about these new students joining our island community. The more people that take part in the race, the more money we will raise. This is only the beginning of an ongoing commitment to helping displaced Bahamians in need.”

Exuma Marathon, featuring the Run for Pompey, will take place on November 9th and leave from Regatta Park. The race, now entering its 5th year, has grown to become a major event for the island by not only generating much-needed tourism dollars, but also by bringing together the community. The event sold out last year, attracting more than 200 runners. This year, it is expected to draw more than 250 runners from across The Bahamas and around the world. Grand Isle Resort, one of the race sponsors, will host a pasta night on November 8th, the night before the race, at its brand new beach club, 23 North.

The race includes a variety of distances for every ability, ranging from a 2K “George Town Dash”, all the way to a grueling 50K Ultra Marathon, otherwise known as The Run for Pompey. The Ultra Marathon is named in honour of Pompey, a slave from Exuma who famously led a rebellion on the island in the first half of the nineteenth century. While his rebellion was eventually stopped by the British, Pompey did prevent the transfer of 77 men, women and children to another island plantation, which would have separated families.

Today, Exuma Marathon honours Pompey’s memory. The event is entirely nonprofit, and students can register for free. All races are professionally timed and each participant receives a commemorative “Swimming Pig Medal” , official Exuma Marathon t-shirt and a swag bag of goodies donated by sponsors.

As an added twist, earlier this week, the Sports Tourism Department at the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism provided Exuma Marathon with B$3,000 in prize money, with $500 up for grabs in the male and female categories of the Ultra Marathon, the Marathon, and the Half Marathon.

“This is our first year offering prize money and I think it is just another reason to come out for a meaningful cause,” said Kevin Taylor, Race Director at Exuma Marathon.

“I have always felt that this event ticks all the boxes. It brings in tourism, unites our communities and it is grounded in authentically Bahamian history and culture. We thank the Sports Tourism Department for their support and the support of all our sponsors. This event just wouldn’t happen without them.”

Exuma Marathon is supported by its longtime Title Sponsor, BAF Financial & Insurance (Bahamas) Limited.

Other key sponsors include Aliv, Caribbean Bottling Company, Atabey, Sands Beer, GIV Bahamas Inc., The Swimming Pig, Grand Isle Resort, Peace & Plenty, Cash N’ Go, Glinton Sweeting O’Brien, BahamasLocal.com, Peace & Plenty, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Diane Phillips & Associates.

‘Pigs of Paradise’ swims the pond to London

Award-winning book and full-length film stage event at a historic bookstore with Bahamas Tourism and other partners, spreading the word that Exuma, 300km south of Abaco, was completely unscathed by Dorian

The swimming pigs swam “ across the pond” last month for the latest stop on their world tour, this time arriving
in London, England, to promote their award-winning book and a full-length film.

Pigs of Paradise’, released by Skyhorse Publishing in October 2018, has had an idyllic year. The double international award-winning book on the tourism phenomenon has sold out of its first printing, with a second edition slated for 2020. Stanfords, a specialty travel book store in downtown London, received the last boxes of the celebrated book for its book signing in early September.

A new, full-length film, commissioned by executive producer Peter Nicholson, was shown to the crowd later that evening. Charlie Smith, the director of the film, also made the trip from his home base in Miami.

“The famous swimming pigs of The Bahamas continue to fascinate visitors from the world over,” said Anthony Stuart, Director Europe, India & The Middle East of The Bahamas Tourist Office.

“It was a privilege to welcome author T.R. Todd and filmmaker Charlie Smith to London and to share with the UK media and swimming pig fans the stories behind our wonderful swimming pigs through Todd’s book ‘Pigs of Paradise’ and the film of the same name. Discovering the background to these enchanting pigs is sure to draw even more visitors to The Exumas, one of the 14 islands which was not impacted by Hurricane Dorian, to see the swimming pigs for themselves and in so doing aid with the recovery of the affected islands.”

A key message of the night for everyone involved was the promotion of The Bahamas in general, educating the attendees that the country is very much open for business despite the tragedy on two islands – Abaco and Grand Bahama.

In addition to the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, other strategic partners came together to deliver this message.

Swimming Pigs Gin, a new company founded by a Bahamian living in London, participated by offering complimentary gin and tonics to the crowd, which included members of the media, travel agents and those simply interested in The Bahamas. Grand Isle Resort in Exuma, untouched by Hurricane Dorian, was also represented at the event, along with other Exuma properties Peace & Plenty and Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

But it was Kew Little Pigs that stole the show. This micro pig breeder, the largest of its kind in Europe, brought in two little piggies from its farm just outside London, setting up an impromptu petting zoo in front of Stanfords. Micro pigs have become increasingly popular as pets in recent times, and Londoners stopped in their tracks to meet the animals and learn more about the animals, and The Bahamas.

“There is no doubt that these swimming pigs are a real source of fascination for people,” said Vivien Godfrey, the third-generation owner of Stanfords, which dates its history back to 1853. Those wishing to make a donation to the Bahamas Red Cross, in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, can visit Stanfords’ website and follow the link.

“It was our pleasure to host ‘Pigs of Paradise’ and all the partners for this truly unique book signing and film screening. We wish The Bahamas well post-Dorian and would certainly encourage people to consider this destination for their next holiday.”

This stop for ‘Pigs of Paradise’ is the latest on the book and film’s world tour, with previous engagements in Fort Lauderdale, the Cannes International Film Festival in France, and local events in Nassau and Exuma. The new, full-length film, narrated by the world-famous Scott Kelly, recently achieved international distribution, and it is expected to arrive on television networks and streaming services sometime in 2020.

Earning his wings

Exuma, 300km south of Abaco, was untouched by Hurricane Dorian. Nevertheless, Grand Isle owner Steven Daiagi has made it his mission to bring relief to those that need it most

Ever since Hurricane Dorian passed through the Northern Bahamas, Steve Daiagi has been in the air.

Residents in Abaco trying to salvage what they could among the rubble – Brendan Smialowski— AFP/Getty Images

The South Florida resident, who also owns a home at Grand Isle Resort in Exuma, Bahamas, has made it his mission to help Bahamians in need. Even though Exuma and Grand Isle were completely untouched by the catastrophic storm, Daiagi, who owns a jet and helicopter, dedicated himself to bringing relief to those most vulnerable.

In addition to his personal efforts and support, he has launched a Go Fund Me account so he can purchase more funds supplies and relief, which has raised over $63,386 – so far.

“The Bahamian people…these are my people. I have a home in The Bahamas,” Daiagi says, who estimates he has run close to 25 relief missions with his aircrafts in the last month. “If you don’t give in this
world you don’t get. It’s just the way I feel and I believe in it.”

Steve Daiagi evacuates Bahamians from Abaco after Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian, a slow-moving, Category 5 storm, first struck Abaco on September, before dragging onwards towards Grand Bahama. It left unprecedented damage in its wake, with more than 60 dead, 70,000 homeless and billions in damage. Exuma and Grand Isle Resort, where Daiagi has a home, is more than 300km to the south. It had sunny skies that day, with barely a hint of the destruction to the north – and it remains completely open for business.

Daiagi had not been personally impacted. Nevertheless, he made it personal. The storm had barely left The Bahamas by the time his helicopter had already landed in Nassau, ready to help and deliver aid. Almost immediately, Daiagi and his team, including his wife and daughter, have been delivering aid, evacuating Bahamians and even flying in rescue teams.

 

Shortly after one of his first relief missions, Daiagi was approached In Nassau by 16 rescue workers that had flown in from Oregon, all looking to get themselves to the affected areas. “I told them there was no way I could do it now. I will come back in the morning with a load of supplies,” he remembers. So I put them up in hotels that night, and when I returned, I had to make six trips to bring their 16-man crew and their dogs to Treasure Cay, in Abaco.”

Describing his first-hand look at the devastation as “10 times worse than what you’ve seen in pictures”, Daiagi has been non-stop ever since, simply because the need is so great. He has run relief to churches in Grand Bahama, where people are being cared for. He has brought generators to the airport’s control tower. His daughter, who works in aviation, is working with NEMA to arrange planes to these islands to save people, at no charge. Daiagi also gives a great deal of credit to Odyssey Aviation, the private terminal in Nassau, which has turned an entire hanger into a relief zone and used their trucks to haul supplies to nearby orphanages.

Steve Daiagi, owner at Grand Isle Resort, helps out unloading supplies for the orphanage in Nassau

A great deal of his focus, he says, has been on the children. Daiagi has been providing supplies – diapers, lotions, bedsheets – to overwhelmed orphanages and safe houses in Nassau, where so many of those most vulnerable have found relief. Every time he returns to Florida, he heads off to Walmart to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies, before heading back up into the air, for The Bahamas.

Stories like those from Daiagi demonstrate not just the scale of the devastation, but also the fact that there are many people out there more than willing to help. And while not all of us have the same time or resources, there are many ways to still help.

One way is to make a donation, such as Daiagi’s Go Fund me account.

Another way is to simply plan your next visit to The Bahamas. An archipelagic nation, the country is about 1,000km long. While devastating, Hurricane Dorian only impacted a small portion of The Bahamas, a destination that relies heavily on tourism dollars.

“We are open for business. Beautiful weather. Lovely beaches. No traffic. Incredibly friendly people. And so we are encouraging people to let people know The Bahamas is very much open for business,” Dionisio D’Aguilar, the Minister of Tourism and Aviation, recently told Global News in Montreal, Canada.

Grand Isle Resort & The Exumas were unaffected by Hurricane Dorian

The best way you can help us, he adds, is to come and visit and have a beautiful vacation. D’Aguilar even had a few words of encouragement for Exuma and its world-famous swimming pigs. “Come to our hotels, go to our restaurants, go on our excursions,” he explains.

“Of course the swimming pigs, completely unaffected. They are waiting for people to come visit them. They are wondering what’s happening.”

 

In response to the storm, Grand Isle has launched a Bahamas Strong package – 10% of every booking will be donated to Bahamas- recovery efforts, with a commitment to ensure these funds will reach those that need it most. You can learn more about the package here.

The Swimming Pig Store quickly sprung to action to partner with Bahamian relief organizations to create items for fundraising & raising awareness – Cred: Atomic Lavender.

For Daiagi, he is also planning a much-deserved holiday at his home at Grand Isle Resort. Of course, he will also be bringing a plane load of supplies with him, to assist those that have sought refuge on Exuma.

Overall, while so much work has been done, Daiagi insists that people cannot forget about The Bahamas once the story slips off the front page. It will be a long and sustained road to recovery for Abaco and Grand Bahama – and The Bahamas needs your support.

“People will go back to their lives,” he says. “Whether we like it or not, that’s what happens. I’ve spent $30,000 of the $64,000 or so that we’ve raised. And I’m in no rush to spend it. We will continue to bring loads of supplies and raise money. We’re going to continue to focus on the kids. That’s just what we are going to do.”

Brands affiliated with The Bahamas such as The Swimming Pig Store have made limited edition #BahamasStrong shirts to help raise much-needed funds and awareness for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts, donating 100% of the profits from sales to Bahamian Red Cross & related organizations.

Pompey Scholarship winner inspired by tragedy

Awarded each year to a student on Exuma, scholarship is made possible by the Exuma Marathon, with the next race on November 9th; Registration is now open with a special booking code for Grand Isle Resort

When Sanaaja Smith learned that her brother suffered from a severe mental illness, she did more than offer her support –
she studied.

Smith, a resident of Exuma, said her brother experienced a series of traumatic incidents as a child, including the loss of her father, which she believes “pushed him over the edge”. While she had always been an excellent student, news of his diagnosis inspired her to better understand the human mind.

Sanaaja Smith, left, accepts her scholarship from Danny Strachan, board member of the Exuma Foundation of Canada, and Cecillia Cooper, executive at title sponsor BAF Financial, at the L N Coakley High School graduation in Exuma last month. Credit: RENO CURLING

So she studied. And studied.

And now, she is the 2019 Pompey Scholarship recipient, awarded last month at the L N Coakley High School graduation ceremony. Smith will attend the University of The Bahamas in Nassau with a major in psychology.

“I aspire to be a clinical psychologist. Once I heard about my brother, I just started doing research, understanding how these things happen, and my interest just bloomed out of being in that situation with him,” according to Smith. “I’ll miss Exuma very much. It is a very peaceful place and not as frantic as Nassau. But I am also very excited and appreciate this amazing opportunity.”

Smith is the 4th recipient of The Pompey Scholarship, awarded to a deserving student each year through the proceeds of the annual Exuma Marathon, featuring The Run For Pompey, which this year will take place on November 9th. Registration is now open.

The race, founded by GIV Bahamas Inc, the largest owner at Grand Isle Resort, has become an anticipated staple of the Exuma tourism calendar. Last year represented the event’s first-ever sell-out, attracting hundreds of participants from throughout The Bahamas and abroad.

In fact, the race has been known to bring in runners from not just the United States and Canada, but also more far-flung countries such as Germany and France. But while Exuma Marathon has emerged as a celebrated community event, and a boost to the local economy, it remains entirely nonprofit, with all funds going towards The Pompey Scholarship.

“Sanaaja was selected because she is one of our top graduates (in the top 1%) who has made significant strides academically but lacks of the financial means to further her education,” said Don Barr, the principal of L N Coakley High School. “She is also one of our top band members and is talented in playing the trombone. We couldn’t find a more deserving student.”

As an event with social impact, Exuma Marathon is well supported by the community, featuring many important local sponsors. The event’s title sponsor is BAF Financial Group, which has been with the event from the beginning. Other major sponsors include GIV Bahamas Inc., Grand Isle Resort, Sands Beer, Aliv and the Caribbean Bottling Company.

For those flying in for the event, Exuma Marathon provides a unique opportunity to have a memorable holiday while also participating in an event with impact and authenticity. The professionally timed race has something for everyone, with short routes for the whole family and a grueling Ultra Marathon for those die-hard runners, otherwise known as The Run For Pompey.

Pompey, commonly considered one of the country’s foremost historical figures, led a slave rebellion on the island in the 1830s when 77 men, women and children were scheduled to be transferred off the island, separating families. Pompey defied the transfer order and preventing it from happening. Today, Pompey is honoured in Exuma by a statue and by a museum in Nassau.

“For my husband and I, Exuma Marathon is the perfect mix of fitness, relaxation, and fun. This island is definitely one of the most beautiful places in the world,” said Lacie Flannery, who attended the race last year with a group of friends.

“It’s just such a unique experience for anyone seeking a new destination race. The island is really special and we will be coming back for the next one!”

Grand Isle Resort is offering a special package for runners. Using the promo code POMPEY, guests will receive 35% off the normal rate for their villa of choice, along with free access to the traditional Pasta Night on November 8th, the night before the race, at the resort’s brand new beach club, 23 North.

‘Pigs of Paradise’ returns home in grand style at 23 North

Grand Isle Resort’s new $4.5M beach club plays host to 4th of July celebrations and an exclusive engagement with the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival

The new film based on the swimming pigs returned home in “grand style” earlier this month when it took over Grand Isle Resort’s new $4.5 million beach club, 23 North, for an exclusive screening under the stars.

This event capped off a world tour of sorts for ‘Pigs of Paradise’, a full-length documentary that chronicles the origins and rise to fame of the worldwide bucket list attraction. After appearances in Fort Lauderdale, the Cannes International Film Festival and a screening with the Bahamian Minister of Tourism in Nassau, the pigs paddled back to where it all started in Exuma.

“It feels like we have come full circle,” said Peter Nicholson, President of GIV Bahamas, the largest owner at Grand Isle Resort, and Executive Producer of the film.

“Sometimes you just have to sit back and smile at the impact of these swimming pigs, and how far we’ve come as an island.

Exuma has always been one of the most beautiful places in the world. The pigs are just the differentiator. They opened up people’s eyes to these world-class islands and Exuma has been a different place ever since.”

And the momentum does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

In addition to the world tour, ‘Pigs of Paradise’, following its visit to Cannes, recently signed an international distribution agreement with a firm in Los Angeles, opening the door to opportunities on network television, streaming services and even a possible mainstream theatrical release in late 2019 and into 2020.

Meanwhile, the book on which the film is based, by T.R. Todd, is rapidly approaching bestseller status, having won two international awards in recent months. The book has also been featured in two major in-flight magazines this summer, including British Airway’s ‘High Life’ in June and American Airline’s ‘American Way’ in July.

Both Todd and Charlie Smith, the film’s director, were on hand for the festivities at Grand Isle Resort from July 4 to July 8.

Grand Isle’s new beach club proved to be the perfect venue not only for ‘Pigs of Paradise’, but a series of films curated by the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival. The beach club now offers Grand Isle guests a second infinity pool, a fine dining restaurant, and a full bar and towel service right on Emerald Bay Beach.

The festival’s organizers and their fans initially flew down for 4th of July celebrations and a pool party at 23 North with live
entertainment, DJs and bottle service at the club’s private cabanas.

“Although the swimming pigs are now known around the world, this is a Bahamian story,” according to Smith, who also directed the breakthrough short film, ‘When Pigs Swim’.  “They are a point of pride for many people, not just in Exuma but other islands in The Bahamas as well. Beyond that, they are a huge part of the economy now and a source of livelihood. So it was a true honour to show the film back in The Bahamas.”

According to recent consumer polls, at least half of all guests at Grand Isle Resort came to Exuma due to the swimming pigs. Appearing in magazines, newspapers, television shows, movies, and countless social media posts, these unique animals first burst on the scene in 2013 when Nicholson and Todd commissioned the short film, ‘When Pigs Swim’.

A series of collaborations and marketing campaigns with ABC’s The Bachelor, NBC’s Today Show, Angry Birds, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, and many others, rapidly brought their story to the global stage.

Today, there are an estimated nine pig colonies scattered throughout The Bahamas on multiple islands, contributing millions to the country’s GDP every year.

GIR owners on mission to help Exuma’s pups

In a few short months, Cindi and Bill Gianopoulos have saved several animals, raised donations and worked with the Humane Society Exuma to assist hundreds of dogs and cats on the island

There are some places in the world that leave a mark. Maybe you have that unforgettable experience, a memorable photo to frame and display in your home.

Then there are places that not only leave a lasting impression but also make you want to give part of yourself.
Exuma is one of those places.

Cindi and Bill Gianopoulos, business owners from Lawrence, Massachusetts, have been traveling to The Bahamas for years. These longtime owners at Grand Isle Resort have explored every corner of Exuma by land and by sea. Charming, beautiful
and safe, the island felt like home. But it wasn’t until a chance encounter last December, with a stray puppy near Emerald Bay beach, that Bill and Cindi started their mission.

“I have always loved animals and seen the strays on the side of the road,” Cindi explains.“I was visiting a lady who has a shop at the end of the beach when I saw this puppy in the nearby woods. I had to get him. I couldn’t just leave him there. These animals are helpless – and they love you back. They deserve our time to help them.” Dirty, riddled with fleas and ticks, and with a wound near its eye, Cindi and Bill took the puppy to the Humane Society Exuma, an experience she describes as “wonderful”. By the end of that visit, the puppy was no longer a stray. He was Tucker, a family pet.

Cindi and Bill didn’t stop there.

Exuma is home to perhaps hundreds of stray dogs, mostly a breed known as Potcakes, a loveable, good-natured animal that is common on several Caribbean islands. While they couldn’t adopt every dog on the island, they took it
upon themselves to get involved. In just a few short months, the family has rescued seven dogs and one cat. Twice, Grand Isle homeowners, with private jets, carried dogs back with them to the United States so they could meet their new owners.

To help locals without access to a car, these Grand Isle owners have even taken dogs and cats to get spayed, neutered, and vaccinated before delivering them back home. Meanwhile, Cindi and Bill are working with the Humane Society Exuma to gather donations, establish charitable status and create a sustainable solution for the island’s strays.

“In Exuma, most dogs do not live inside the home. There is a cultural difference. Spay and neutering is not common, and so the population just grows,” Cindi says. “What’s tragic is many of these animals develop heartworm, so they only tend to live
for just four or five years. The Humane Society is out there educating, picking up stray dogs, and doing what they can.”

Dr. Issah Hanson is the organization’s only veterinarian, and he lives in Nassau. Dr. Hanson has to travel to Exuma on his weekends off, typically once a month, to perform surgeries and procedures.
“We receive no government assistance, and must rely solely on income generated from services and the
donations of our generous sponsors,” says Ellen Sykes, a volunteer for the society. “We are always in need of
medicines, supplies, and equipment.”

The society is currently located in a cramped space at Bahama Sound, just off the Queen’s Highway. Although the organization has recently obtained funding for an x-ray machine, the space is too small to safely operate it. Plans are underway to expand the clinic into the unit next door. The Humane Society Exuma might be short on volunteers and capital, but it is rich in ambition. A Florida based non-profit – Friends of the Humane Society Exuma Inc – has just been created to assist with fundraising. It has even launched a new Go Fund Me page to raise money for the animals.
In the end, on a developing island like Exuma, there are many causes that need a helping hand. For Cindi and Bill, it just happened to be animals. Whether others choose to join their cause or establish their own, it is the beauty of Exuma and its people that inspires people to make a difference.

“This island has been our home away from home for so many years,” Cindi says. “It’s just special. Of course, Exuma itself is beautiful, but the safety of the island and the warmth of the locals makes it totally different compared to so many places in the Caribbean. We are emotionally invested as well. It’s much more than a holiday for us.”

To learn more about Humane Society Exuma, you
can visit its Facebook page here.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible charitable donation to any cause in Exuma, the Exuma Foundation of Canada and Exuma Foundation of America can provide charitable tax receipts for your North American income tax return.

Please contact Jeff Todd for more information at jeff@wcpd.com

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