Hundreds gathered at the Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart at Georgetown University to say goodbye to Nina Brekelmans, an accomplished student, avid runner, and passionate advocate for women in the Middle East.
Brekelmans, 25, lost her life in a tragic house fire at 1610 Riggs Place NW last week near Dupont Circle. Today, her family, friends, and mentors remembered a woman who led a full, compassionate life.
Imam Yahya Hendi, director of Muslim Life at Georgetown and one of Brekelmans’ mentors, opened the service in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, in her honor.
“Nina was a citizen of the world,” he said. “[She was a] hero in the way she loved unconditionally.”
That sentiment was echoed by Alice Gissinger, who grew close with Brekelmans after the two studied abroad together in Jordan
“She told you she loved you, and she did that a lot,” she said. “She would do it with so little reserve, it was so clear that it was honest.”
Just weeks ago, Brekelmans completed her Masters degree in Arab Studies at Georgetown. A dedicated runner, Nina incorporated her passion for the sport into her travels all over the world. She was due to return to Jordan later this year as a Fulbright Scholar. She planned to study running as an avenue for female empowerment in the region.
As a tribute to her global reach, her friends living in Morocco and Jordan have led separate memorial services to Brekelmans. Members of the Jordanian Athletic Association have organized a run in Jordan for her tomorrow, according to her professors.
Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies will establish a scholarship fund in Nina’s memory to promote the empowerment of women in the Middle East. The university asks that donors direct inquiries and contributions to Rania Kiblawi at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, and to reference the Nina Brekelmans Scholarship Fund.
Some of Brekelmans’ friends have talked about organizing local tributes such as a charity 5K to raise money for her scholarship fund, though no formal plans have been set. Members of her family told Borderstan that they plan to travel to Dartmouth, where Brekelmans studied as an undergrad, to plant a tree on campus in her memory.
“I don’t know how the next months and years will go without Nina in our lives,” her brother Rob said, as he described how he can honor his sister by working to incorporate her values into his daily life. “At the very least, this may be the motivation I need to train for a 5K run.”
Borderstan reporter Kishan Putta contributed to this post.