Giving Back

“Proud of My Islands”

A dream inspires a movement.

By Ben Stubenberg ~ Photo By Attimi Photography

“Proud of My Island” began as a dream in the Fall of 2021 that inspired Providenciales residents Sammy Kildegaard and Emiliano Otin to give back to the Turks & Caicos—islands that had given so much for them. Environmentalists at heart, they envisioned making a product that would sharply reduce the use of plastic bags while highlighting and protecting the physical and cultural heritage of TCI. 

After much brainstorming, they asked themselves, “Why not produce a functional shopping bag featuring spectacular pictures of TCI wildlife and landmarks that both locals and visitors could take pride in? And let’s go a step further by selling those bags to raise money to protect those treasures and keep TCI pristine for future generations.”

“Proud of My Island” shopping bags are both functional and feature spectacular pictures of TCI wildlife and landmarks that both locals and visitors can take pride in.

Soon enough, Sammy and Emiliano, also founders of Natural Trade Distribution Ltd., found themselves immersed in a long-term mission to build an environmental legacy. First, they sourced the right materials for the best design and found a reliable manufacturing facility. Next, they contacted local photographers Ileana Ravasio, Kim Mortimer, and Agile LeVin, and invited them to submit their best shots showcasing brown pelicans, humpback whales, Pirate’s Cove, and Mudjin Harbour. These images were then applied to each side of the bags, making them, in effect, moveable works of art that catch the eye wherever carried. The pair added descriptions of the animals and places to tell a story and put them in context.

Local businesses recognized the value and signed up to be sponsors of the dream. Before long, Sammy and Emiliano had transformed a humble shopping bag into a bold statement about TCI that evolved into a “Proud of My Island” movement.

Over the past year, the bags have wildly succeeded with some 15,000 sold through local retail stores. Not only do the stunning bags reinforce local pride in the unique and special place we live, but impressed visitors snap them up to take back home. Thus, the bags serve yet another purpose of visually promoting TCI when they are used for shopping in the US, Canada, UK, and elsewhere.

Proceeds from the bag sales and from sponsor donations allow “Proud of My Island” to donate to local charities such as the TCI Reef Fund and others that are committed to keep the Islands’ environment healthy for years to come.

Sammy and Emiliano are now creating a third phase of bags displaying more breathtaking pictures from Grand Turk and East Caicos, along with compelling stories highlighting TCI’s alluring grace and beauty. “We love these Islands,” the duo say with heartfelt pride. “And we want to work with local people to help sustain the awe and reverence we all feel of our home. There are so many to thank for collaborating in this movement with us.”

Ben Stubenberg, co-founder of the vacation adventure company Caicu Naniki, is a regular contributor to Times of the Islands.

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On the Cover

Gary James at Provo Pictures ( used a drone to photograph this bird’s-eye view of Dragon Cay off Middle Caicos. It perfectly captures the myriad of colors and textures that make God’s works of art in nature so captivating.

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