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Eliman Gibba and Alexandra Sianis-Gibba

"I'm the black sheep," says Eliman Gibba, eldest son of his family in the Gambian coastal fishing town of Gunjur. "My dad wanted me to be a religious scholar." Instead, he finished high school and got a job teaching local languages to Peace Corps volunteers. He wrote a manual for the Mandinka language, married a volunteer, landed in Corvallis, and found work with mentally challenged high school kids. Following a divorce, he worked at an alternative school in Portland and fathered a daughter, named Nima after his recently departed sister. He was a single dad in 2001, teaching at Wellsprings Friends School in Eugene, when he met Alex Sianis, who came to town with her Greek immigrant parents in 1977 to open Original Joe's Italian Restaurant. "Nima became the light of my life," says Sianis, who became part of their family a few months later. In 2005, Gibba joined the Sianis family business. Try his Mafé (West African peanut stew) at the Sunset Hut food cart, 12th and Kincaid. In January of 2009, 11-year-old Nima, a boy, and two moms were killed by a drunk driver after a dance class. After a trip to Africa in December of 2010, Gibba and Sianis launched Nima's Wish Foundation, aimed at bringing appropriate technologies and educational opportunities to Gambia. "We currently sponsor six children and one adult," says Sianis. Learn more at nimaswish.com.

happening people

photograph and story by Paul Neevel

Eugene Weekly / 24 May 2012

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