This story originally ran in the November 14, 2017 edition of the Giving Guide
In the hot blazing sun, 15-year-old Cameron Williams peddled and peddled in his flipflops up the spine of Exuma, Bahamas. His old, rickety BMX bike scraped the edge of the road where pavement met asphalt. He teetered, but never fell. Older boys in the back of a support vehicle shouted and encouraged the younger boy. Cameron hit another edge, and one of his shoes fell off.
The support vehicle stopped. But Cameron kept his head down. He just peddled. One of the boys picked the shoe up off the road, tossing it in the back of the truck. Cameron was the last to finish the 40-kilometre community ride at the latest Tour de Turquoise, an annual fundraiser that last took place last February. But finish he did, despite the loss of a shoe.
This boy’s determination to cross the finish line is just one inspiring moment among many others on the island of Exuma. It is here, on a stunning archipelago in the Atlantic, that a new foundation, led by Canadians, is working hard to
uplift this community for the better. The Exuma Foundation of Canada (EFC),
founded by GIV Bahamas Inc., is unique in that it offers tax receipts to generous Canadian donors. The island is a popular spot for Canadians, whether it be tourists or second home owners. The influx of Canucks is helped in part by a direct flight every Thursday and Sunday from Toronto via Air Canada Vacations.
Since 2014, the foundation has sought to improve healthcare and education on Exuma through unique, grassroot events and initiatives that inspire its people. GIV Bahamas is a hospitality and real estate company owned by Peter Nicholson, the Foundation (WCPD).
“Everything we do in business, whether it be in Canada or The Bahamas, tends to have a philanthropic twist,” said Nicholson, who is also the founder and a board member of the Exuma Foundation of Canada, and the President of GIV
“Our activities in Exuma are entirely different, but no less rewarding. My work with Canadian donors, foundations and charities is a huge source of inspiration to me. I always want to maximize the benefit to charities and the donors. The fact I can also help people on Exuma, where I have been investing for more than 13 years, is icing on the cake. It expands my horizons and really motivates me to have a positive impact in society in all aspects of my business.”
While the foundation is still in the adolescent phase, it has done a lot of growing up in just a few years.
Cameron, the 15-year-old boy who inspired so many at Tour de Turquoise, was just one of dozens of cyclists from Canada and The Bahamas that participated in the third annual event. With the next installment coming up Feb. 10, 2018, the ride has raised tens of thousands of dollars for local fundraising initiatives. It also attracts noted Canadian philanthropists to participate.
Last year, EFC purchased a special bus to help the elderly and disabled reach the island’s new hospital. For 2017, organizers have bought a stockpile of racing bikes with the ambition of starting a cycling club for Exuma’s youth.
Howard Chang, the event’s founder and EFC board member, credits the people of Exuma for embracing initiatives such as Tour De Turquoise.
“I have been a homeowner on Exuma now for several years, and one of the reasons we chose Exuma is because of its people,” said Chang, who owns an advertising firm in Toronto. “The most rewarding part has been the enthusiasm we’ve received from the community, particularly the students.”
Indeed, many of the initiatives taken up by EFC are grounded in young people.
Run for Pompey, the first annual marathon for the island, is also entering its third year this October. The race commemorates the life of a slave named Pompey, who in 1830 defied a transfer order on Exuma that would have separated 77 men, women and children from their families. Although his rebellion was eventually squashed, it is widely seen as a key moment in the Bahamian fight for freedom.
Held each year over National Heroes Day Weekend, from Oct. 6 to Oct. 8, Run for Pompey features races for all ages, skill levels and abilities, including a 2K “George Town Dash,” right up to the country’s only “ultra marathon” at a whopping 50K.
While the race attracts runners from all over the world, the focus is always on the students. All students run for free and receive commemorative medals and shirts. And each year, through event proceeds and more than a dozen local sponsors, EFC awards The Pompey Scholarship to one student on Exuma so he or she can attend the college or university. For the last two years, recipients have opted to attend Acadia University on the Canadian east coast.
“I was really just stunned,” said Demi Rolle, the latest winner, who was announced on June 15th.
“Me? Really? When they called my name, I couldn’t believe it. It was really exciting. I plan to come home to Exuma, but I want to get that experience abroad as well and then perhaps open up my own pre-school when I return. I heard it is very nice in Canada and I have friends over there.”
By focusing on the island’s youth, EFC hopes to create a better future for everyone on Exuma, whether it be the Canadians who visit or those who call it home. Beyond the events, the foundation is also assisting in the construction of a shelter to house and care for abused or underprivileged children. Another new and ongoing project is the renovation of the island’s main basketball court facility.
The goal is for someone like Cameron to look to the next generation of leaders, like Demi, and aspire to reach full potential in life.
“For me, the process of helping to start a foundation abroad and watch it grow has been truly inspirational,” said Jeff Todd, Director of Communications at the Foundation (WCPD), GIV Bahamas Inc. and a board member at EFC. “When it comes to giving, I think we need to constantly push the boundaries and think outside the box. Exuma is definitely outside the box and I am really proud of the work Canadians are doing there. The island is so impressionable and you see the impact immediately. I find that very fulfilling.”