Announcing the 2018 Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Recipient: Grace Makhoul

The 2018-19 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship is Grace Makhoul. Congratulations Grace! 


About Grace

Ms. Grace Makhoul, a first-year candidate in Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Arab Studies Program, is the 2018-2019 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship. Originally from Homs, Syria, Grace graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 2018 with a BA in Peace and Global Studies and Comparative Languages and Linguistics. As an undergraduate, she was heavily involved in student government and was also a strong advocate for international students’ rights and promoted awareness of the Palestinian cause. She has interned at UNRWA USA—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees—in Washington, DC, where she served as a research and administrative intern. Grace has been serving as a selection officer and a PR manager for the United World Colleges Syrian National Committee for the past four years. Her pas research has focused on finding alternative solutions to protracted camp placements and the viability and sustainability of multilingual national policies. Grace hopes that her time at CCAS will allow her to utilize lessons from those former experiences and focus on how education can be used as a tool in development work in the region.

Mabrook Grace! Thank you to everyone who donated and made the scholarship possible!

-Biography courtesy of Georgetown University

Announcing the 2017 Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Recipient, Ghadeer Awwad

The 2017-2018 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship is Ghadeer Awwad. Congratulations Ghadeer! 

Photo courtesy of Twitter

About Ghadeer

Ms. Ghadeer Awwad is the 2017-2018 Recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Endowed Memorial Scholarship at Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Arab Studies (MAAS) program. Ghadeer is originally from Nablus, Palestine and graduated from Earlham College in 2016. Her research interests at MAAS include women’s empowerment, conflict resolution, peacebuilding and human rights, and Palestinian society under Israeli occupation.

At the age of sixteen, Ghadeer Awwad was selected to represent her home country of Palestine at Pearson United World College in Canada, a two-year, pre-university school for students from over 100 countries who live, study and learn together while pursuing the International Baccalaureate. Leaving home at a young age allowed Ghadeer to expand her horizons and develop her identity as a Palestinian Arab woman. After graduating from Pearson College, Ghadeer joined the Union of Palestinian Women Committees as a member and volunteer in Nablus, Palestine. Being part of UPWC provided Ghadeer the opportunity to work closely with women from her own society and to contribute in the national struggle to establish an independent Palestinian State. In addition, hearing women voice their experiences showed Ghadeer the need to take a more critical approach to addressing gender issues in her community.

Following her work in Palestine, Ghadeer returned to North America to attend Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. At Earlham, Ghadeer double-majored in International Studies and Human Development, a combination that enabled her to study public policy with an eye toward issues of social justice. Ghadeer focused her academic research on truth recovery and transitional justice in post-conflict societies and on Palestinian women’s engagement in national resistance movements. During her undergraduate career Ghadeer took a gap semester to work with the Drama, Diversity, and Development project (DDD), which uses culture to promote diversity and challenge discrimination against minorities in the MENA region. Working with DDD provided Ghadeer with further opportunities to engage with women activists and civil-society experts fighting for equality in the MENA region.

Ghadeer aspires to work in the advocacy field and to continue working alongside disadvantaged women in areas affected by war and conflict, such as her native Palestine. To achieve this goal, Ghadeer plans to concentrate her graduate work in the MAAS program on women and development in the MENA region.

Thank you to everyone that made this possible!

-Biography courtesy of Georgetown University

2017 DC Run/Walk Hosted by Georgetown CCAS


By Michael Brill, Foundation Advisor and Georgetown Alum (MAAS '16)

On March 19, 2016, nearly 200 runners came together on Georgetown University’s Copley Lawn for the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship 5k. It was a special day in which Nina’s spirit was powerfully felt: The race proceeds helped fund an endowed scholarship at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS). Meanwhile, the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls launched in Amman, Jordan.

April 23, 2017 will provide another opportunity to come together on the Georgetown campus in Nina’s memory. Nina’s professors from CCAS have organized a relaxed run and walk that will shine light on the progress that has been made to carry forward Nina’s vision. We will also be collecting donations for the running camp.

Beginning at 8:30 a.m., friends and colleagues will gather at the main CCAS suite, room 241 of the Bunn Intercultural Center (to reach CCAS, take the stairs or elevator down one floor after entering through the eastward-facing main entrance of the Intercultural Center building). After everyone has gathered in CCAS, there will be a community 5K run/walk starting at 9 a.m., followed by a breakfast and opportunity to share memories of Nina back at CCAS around 10 a.m.

Please RVSP at Eventbrite for this event.  We look forward to seeing you there!


Announcing the 2016 Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Recipient, Samah Asfour

The 2016-2017 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship is Samah Asfour. Congratulations Samah! 

Photo by Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo

Photo by Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo

Born to Palestinian immigrant parents, Samah Asfour tailored her educational and career goals to reflect her Arab identity. At the University at Buffalo, Samah majored in Political Science and Global Gender Studies and minored in French.

To advance her language skills, Samah studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. While there, she began conducting research for her honors thesis topic on the discrimination against Muslim women in France and their counter-public spheres.

Dedicated to alleviating poverty in the developing world, Samah co-founded an organization on campus under the mission to promote female education as a tool of empowerment. After graduating magna cum laude in May 2015, Samah embarked on a Fulbright assignment in Amman, Jordan where she lectured at Jordan Applied University.

During her year teaching business English and tourism English courses, Samah found time to improve her Modern Standard Arabic by taking classes at both the Qasid Institute and Ahlan Jordan. Samah volunteered with Madrasati, A Queen Rania Initiative, where she created and implemented interactive English games for elementary education.

As the first recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship, Samah plans to concentrate her graduate work on women and gender in the MENA region. She hopes to gain more knowledge on Arab-American identity, Islamic feminism, and women’s roles in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Thank you to everyone that made this possible!


Samah and volunteers at the 2016 Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls in Amman, Jordan.

Samah and volunteers at the 2016 Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls in Amman, Jordan.

GRC Announces the First Annual Nina Brekelmans Award Winner

The Nina Brekelmans Award Winner, Dickson Mercer

In recognition of our dear teammate, the Georgetown Running Club has established an annual award in Nina's memory that recognizes a teammate who exhibits Nina's passion for service, drive for excellence, love of running, and humility. We are pleased to announce the first recipient, Dickson Mercer. 

From the GRC announcement: Two of the many wonderful qualities that we will always remember about Nina were her passion for running, and her dedication to public service. Because Dickson shares those qualities, he is a fitting winner of the inaugural award in Nina's honor. Dickson is an experienced and accomplished marathoner who is not known for his speed, yet in 2015, at age 33, Dickson ran his first full track season since college because he wanted to have some fun with the sport he loves. The results were impressive, capped by his huge PR of 8:52 for 3000. Dickson also has a history of public service as demonstrated by his work, along with his wife Emily, in the Peace Corps in Niger, and his demanding stint as a guide for elite visually impaired runner Aaron Scheidies in the 2012 Wilson Bridge Half Marathon. Dickson has also dedicated himself to GRC, and his contributions to the team include sharing his vast expertise in the marathon with his younger teammates.

Dickson Mercer

RunWashington Feature: Bringing Running With Her

RunWashington Feature: Bringing Running With Her

Ibrahim Abu Asbeh was driving on a sunny day in Amman, Jordan, when he first saw Nina Brekelmans running.

“Wow, she is really good,” the running coach thought to himself. “I need to know her.”

Seeing a female runner in that country was rare, something Nina hoped to change.

She was in Jordan through the Center for Arabic Study Abroad while a graduate student at Georgetown and Abu Asbeh just happened to see her during one of her training runs along Amman’s Sport City trails. After picking up running at the insistence of a friend, she had competed for Dartmouth and kept it up after moving on to grad school.

Bicycles, Yoga, and Nina: BicycleSPACE Yoga Fundraiser

Nina moved quickly. If she wasn't running somewhere, Nina was likely darting off around town on a bright pink road bike. It's no surprise then that she would be drawn to a series of free evening yoga classes at BicycleSPACE, a community-oriented bicycle shop in downtown Washington, DC. The classes, hosted inside BicycleSPACE's shop function on a give-what-you-can model whereby all proceeds are donated to local non-profits. 

Upon hearing of Nina’s passing, BicycleSPACE yoga instructor Claire Hamp decided to dedicate classes throughout the summer of 2015 to Nina and the scholarship endowment at Georgetown University. On September 28, 2015, a special yoga class and reception was held at BicycleSPACE’s Adams Morgan shop to award over $900 in donations to the representatives of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship Fund at Georgetown University. Photos from that event are below. 

Eulogy by Elizabeth Harmon

Nina and I met at Middlebury’s summer Arabic language school in 2010. Everyone had to take a placement test, and I tested into a class that was too advanced. I got to the class early and everyone was already chatting in Arabic about their far more accomplished backgrounds. None of the kids looked to be my age, some had graduate degrees, and many had clearly already studied or lived in the Middle East.  Lucky for me, there was Nina. She and I both had just finished our sophomore years of college. I can still picture her sitting at the table on the first day, looking cheerful and eager to begin class, but most importantly to me, she was the only friendly face in the crowd. We sat together, getting to know one another. Nina never put on airs, she is one of the most modest people I have met, especially given her many many accomplishments.

The Middlebury program required everyone to speak only in Arabic for 10 weeks, so we had numerous hours for small talk and chit chat with that limitation. With Nina, the chit chat could run for hours, because even though she was younger than most students, she had great stories about her worldly life, passions, and interests and could convey them very well in the language. She was so easy to talk to.

Within a week of the program beginning, I realized the class with Nina was too advanced for me, and so I dropped down to a lower level. Nina stuck it out as the youngest girl in her class with the fewest number of courses of formal Arabic instruction. She was so determined to challenge herself and disciplined enough to reach her goals. While we were in the same class, we worked together on the homework. When I dropped down a level, Nina continued to help me with my homework and answer my questions throughout the program. Nina was incredibly generous with her time in helping others, no matter how busy she was. This is what she loved to do. And she loved the study of Arabic and how it brought her to interact with others.

Nina talked about how she was happiest when she was studying abroad in the Middle East, because Arabic was her favorite subject, and being there was a chance to study that subject at all hours of the day, in every situation. Whether it was sitting in class, giving directions to a cab driver, hanging out with her local language exchange partner, or running past the vendors on the Corniche in Alexandria, Egypt, she was soaking up the language just being in the Middle East.

Two weeks ago we went for lunch and when talking about her future, she said that she was interested in translating fiction from Arabic into English. She loved the idea of entertaining two of her passions. On top of her rigorous course load in her final semester of her Arab Studies program at Georgetown, she took a creative writing class in the English department and really enjoyed it.

I asked her to lunch because I was hoping to get her advice and feedback on a creative writing project of my own. One of the last things she said to me was, “Lizzie, you just tell me what you need me to do to help you, and I’ll do it.”

Eulogy by Michael Brill

Nina Brekelmans was an amazing colleague and fellow student.  She was an even more amazing person and friend.  Nina and I met in the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program in Amman, Jordan in August 2013.  In getting to know Nina during the following months, I was struck most by the remarkable combination of austerity and discipline with which she conducted herself and regimented her life on the one hand, and the heartfelt happiness and gentleness of spirit with which she interacted with others and the world around her on the other.  Many a weaker person, having subjected him or herself to such a rigorous lifestyle and exacting standards in every endeavor, would have been negatively affected and undergone a hardening of their heart; but not Nina.   Nina’s smile and friendliness were contagious and although we did not share any of the same classes that year in Jordan, our meet-ups for lunch or tea, along with chance encounters at the Arabic institute or around Amman, always predictably resulted in a distinct sense of optimism and positivity.  Never before had I met someone possessing the grace of balancing the highest level of personal devotion with the authentic humility of accepting the world she encountered and the people in it she met as they were.  Nina radiated the joy that comes not only from living, but living well with kindness towards all.  

Nina and my academic and personal friendships developed in an environment heavily influenced by her characteristic dedication and genuineness of purpose.  At a dinner party over Alice Gissinger’s apartment 2-3 months into the program, Nina and I realized that we had not spoken to each other in English, highlighting the seriousness with which she took the pledge to speak in Arabic.  Nina also took a sincere interest in my own plans for the future and was elated that I had deferred acceptance to the Arab Studies program at Georgetown University.  Nina made it crystal clear that she expected me to come back with her to Georgetown and when I officially accepted in April 2014, she greeted me that morning by screaming and jumping up to give me a giant hug, the warmth of which will never grow cold.  In word, spirit, and action, Nina’s loyalty to and pride in this university were boundless.  

The experience of actually having class with and studying alongside Nina this past year at Georgetown is something I will always be grateful for.  Mr. and Mrs. Brekelmans, as I told you when we crossed paths at DuPont Circle just a few weeks ago, “It was an honor spending the past two years with Nina in CASA and at Georgetown, although she set the academic bar so high that it was basically impossible to reach.” However, the difficulty of keeping pace with Nina, whether in school or in life, is not an excuse to avoid trying, to not giving it our very best. We will recall the elegance and poise with which Nina ran marathons and the race of life while finding inspiration in how she ran both.  Nina would expect and accept nothing less.  And despite the pain, sadness, and darkness of the irreparable void created by Nina’s loss, to quote novelist Stephen Crane, I hope that time will bring a measure of solemn comfort in the knowledge that even “the unutterable midnights of the universe will have no power to daunt the color of this soul.”

Eulogy by Alice Gissinger

Dearest Gail, Nico, Rob, friends,

I feel blessed to know that I was one of Nina's very close friends. We got to know each other by spending a year abroad together, studying Arabic in Jordan.

She and I were different in a number of ways, but something about her beauty, her energy, her intelligence, her friendliness instantly attracted me to her, and over the course of the year, we became very close friends.

One of the things I liked most about Nina is that I never had any doubts about the way she felt about people or things. She always made herself very clear.

I'm not saying that Nina wasn't complex or indecisive ­­ she was, we all know that. Nina took forever to make decisions. They dragged on and on. But at least, she never pretended to be sure of herself if she wasn’t.

When Nina wasn't happy about something, or didn't adore someone, she made it very easy to find out. She was wonderfully simple to be around.

If Nina didn't really want to go to your party, she would tell you.

If she didn't want to eat your food, she would tell you.

If you were giving her too much homework ­­-- or too little homework, for that matter -- she would tell you.

It wasn't always pleasant, but at the very least, you never had to worry, or try to guess how she was feeling, or walk on eggshells around Nina. She spared you that effort. Said. Done.

And of all the people I have loved this fully, I think I had to worry about Nina the least. I could always trust she was doing her thing and she'd take care of herself.

Which is why this particular tragedy, which brought us here together today, is so haunting.

Nina forced people to be honest with each other. And if she told you she loved you, and she did that a lot, because she cared for people, she would do it without reserve, without a shred of ambiguity. There was never a question that she meant every word. She would write things like "lots of giant hugs." Who writes things like that?

Gail and Nico, thank you for raising such a genuine gal. She was always right there with us.

Rob, thank you for all the times you teased and annoyed your sister growing up -- it’s how she learned to stand up for herself.

Nina my darling, lots of giant hugs. I will miss you very much.

Video: Nina's Memorial Race in Amman, Jordan on June 11, 2015

Translation into English: 

Toya Hasab Allah: This is for Nina’s memory, she loved running very much. She used to be very happy with the races done in Amman. She is a hero, and has a great place in our hearts. Our love for her cannot be quantified and will always remember her. As long as I run, she will always be with me. 

Ibrahem Abu Asbeh:  Nina was a dear friend and colleague. We used always train together.  The tragic news has profoundly impacted and upset all of us. We wanted to commemorate her memory through this Race for Charity in her name. We were happy that all her friends attended the run and even people who did not know her personally participated to honor her. Our prayers go out to her and her family.

Sharifa and Ashwaq: We are Nina’s friends, and her running partners.  We first met Nina here, at Sports City, and we would run together almost daily.  Talking about Nina, she brought us together with her persistent, kind spirit that represents a true sportswoman.  The smile would never leave her face, no matter her score or run time. As a human being, she is irreplaceable and our loss is great.  She is a friend above all else, she would motivate and encourage us. Her voice is still with me, urging us to go on, give it all we’ve got and not care about the challenges.  She will always be with us, her spirit is with us. Everything in Sports City reminds us of her.  We send our condolences to her family as we try to console ourselves with the loss of such a friend. 

Lina Al-Kurd: Today, we as Run Jordan have come together  to support running for charity, which is our motto.  We are doing this today in the name of one of our runners who participated with us in 2014, Nina Brekelmans. Nina is an American citizen who learned Arabic and tried to make an impact in Jordan.  She worked mainly on empowering local women to participate in sports, especially running.  She tried to help them overcome societal stigma and participate in any sport within the Kingdom. She also worked with us. She helped us with the Young Runners program. She volunteered as a trainer in this initiative.  We send her family our deepest condolences. We lost a great runner and volunteer who had an amazing spirit. Her memory will always live with her family and friends. This video is a gift to her loved ones in the US. In memory of Nina Brekelmans.

Run Jordan organizes memorial run for Nina Brekelmans

AMMAN — Run Jordan organised a special run in memory of American runner Nina Brekelmans who passed away in a tragic accident on June 3 in the United States, according to a statement from organisers.

Brekelmans won the 2014 Dead Sea Ultra Marathon 21km race and was one of the first five winners in the 2014 Amman Marathon.

She also volunteered with Run Jordan and helped launch the Junior Runners Programme in 2014. As a tribute to her highly motivated spirit and achievements with the society, Run Jordan’s family, team members and many local runners who participated in these races with Nina, came together to honour her love for running at the Sports City running track.

“We were very saddened with the news of Nina’s death, and to remember her motivated, helpful and giving spirit we decided that the best thing would be to honour her with the one thing that she loved most, running,” said Lina Kurd, Run Jordan general manager.

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