Honoring Her Spirit: Parents of Girl Killed in Crash to Start Charity
Nate Gartrell, EDN
In early 2009, an 11-year-old girl named Nima Gibba lost her life in one of Eugene’s most fatal car crashes. This month, her parents, Eliman Gibba and Alexandra Sianis, plan to honor her “giving spirit” by starting a charity foundation, called Nima’s Wish. Through the foundation, the couple hope to raise funds to help impoverished Gambians and Senegalese.
Eliman is a Gambian citizen, with ancestry in Senegal. After working for the Peace Corps, he came to the US in 1990, where he’s lived ever since. Last December, he and Sianis traveled to Gambia and Senegal, searching for ways to help both countries’ citizens.
“When I’m looking at what we can do, I’m not looking at my family,” said Eliman, Nima’s father. “I’m looking at what [Sianis] and I can do to improve life over there.”
Eliman said that starting a charity foundation in Nima’s name with the specific purpose of helping Gambians and Senegalese is a natural progression, given his family history. Eliman named Nima after his sister, and considered her birth a promising sign for the future, since it followed the deaths of several of his relatives back in Africa.
“In six months, I lost seven members of my household,” said Gibba. “When Nima was born (in 1997), there was hope. So when she passed, we decided to do this giving back program in her honor.”
Nima was 11-years-old in 2009 when she was killed, while carpooling home from school, by a drunk driver, who initiated the crash by speeding through a red light on his way home from a strip club. Heather Mulgrave, 36, Connie Vermilyea, 34, and Jaziah Vermilyea, 10, were also killed in the crash.
A close friend of Nima’s, Jakobi Mulgrave, then 10, was seriously hurt, but survived and recovered from his physical injuries. The person responsible for the accident is currently serving a 20 year prison sentence.
“[Nima] had such a yearning to help others, especially animals and kids,” said Sianis, Nima’s stepmother. “We’ve been hurting for two and a half years. So to carry that on for her gives us a sense of peace.”
Sianis and Eliman came back from their trip to Africa feeling overwhelmed. Both countries, they said, have many issues, which affect the quality and quantity of food, shelter, and water for their citizens. Among them, said Eliman and Sianis, are a lack of efficient stoves, a lack of adequate farming technology, and a lack of tradesman tools, such as sewing machines or wood carving equipment.
“They need funding to buy rice and fish; they struggle that way,” said Sianis. “Even simple things like immunizations for the kids, they don’t have.”
Because of this, the couple has decided to work on several aid projects at once. They’re using a woodshed in their backyard to store boxes and suitcases of clothes, toys, and soccer balls, which they plan to take with them on a future trip and give away. Additionally, they’re working with a local not-for-profit organization, Aprovecho, which specializes in making efficient rocket stoves for impoverished people worldwide.
They’re also planning to send a container of sewing machines, as a means of providing not just clothes to impoverished Africans, but employment.
“It helps women earn income on their own and sustain themselves, versus being dependent,” said Sianis. “So that’s what we’re supporting.”
Eliman and Sianis are currently working with Amsel Media, a locally-owned media marketing company, to set up Nima’s Wish Foundation’s first major fundraiser: an outdoor music festival, which the couple said will happen in September.
“Then we want to make a compilation CD to raise awareness to what the organization is all about,” said Eliman.
To do this, they’re working with Kent Goodman of Amsel media, a local author who is also a board member of the Alliance for Democracy in Africa, which is based in Gambia. Goodman said he decided to work with the charity because he has faith in Eliman and Sianis’ ability to get funding to Africa efficiently.
“They know the actual people,” said Goodman. “The money goes from here, straight to whoever needs it over there.”
Members of the public interested in helping Nima’s Wish Foundation can send donations to P.O. Box 2497, Eugene, OR, 94705. They can also visit the Nima’s Wish Facebook page.