Our Team

Meet the BFI Staff
Julie Marner
Julie Marner – Executive Director

As BFI’s Executive Director, Julie oversees programming, funding, and implementation of projects in Burundi. Her love for Burundi began with her first visit to the country in 2010, then a subsequent trip in 2011 to teach English Communication at Light University. Since that time, Julie’s trips to Burundi have expanded beyond efforts in education to larger projects in economic empowerment. Throughout her life, Julie has assisted many volunteer organizations focusing on the homeless, the imprisoned, and the mentally ill. Julie is a Rotarian with the San Diego Rotary Club #33. 

Julie studied Music Education at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Colorado and a M.A. in Practical Theology from the University of San Diego. Having grown up on a small Iowa farm, Julie believes Iowans, and others with experience in agriculture, can uniquely empower Burundi's youth, women and families to shift from subsistence farming to sustainability and eliminate extreme hunger in the country.

Melissa Flores
Melissa Flores – Program Manager

Melissa has a BA in Anthropology from the University of California San Diego, and is currently working on her MA at the University of San Diego in Nonprofit Leadership. Melissa’s passion lies in helping and educating others and believes that by helping people reach their goal, one will in turn reach his/her own goal. In her free time, Melissa enjoys traveling, reading, and volunteering at other local nonprofits.

Meet the BFI Board
Liz Clarke
Liz Clarke – Chair of the Board

Liz has a BA in Sociology from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT.  

She gained several years' experience in the field of accounting & bookkeeping. For the last 32 years she has served various entrepreneurial roles in her family operated technology reseller business, ranging from Customer Operations to Controller. Liz served for 10 years as a patient care volunteer for San Diego Hospice, and currently is living her dream, running a Bed & Breakfast in her home.

Joining the BFI Board in 2011, Liz endeavors to utilize her critical thinking in business, coupled with her heart for humanity, to take the BFI mission to enormous heights.

"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."
-Mother Theresa

Valerie Quick
Valerie Quick- Secretary

Valerie has a BA in American Studies from San Diego State University. She is a gifted fundraising specialist. She is the current BFI Chair of Gratitude and Volunteer Services/Event Planner. She has had leadership positions with National Charity League, SD Food Bank Senior Program, and other various charities throughout San Diego. Valerie is also busy growing her business, Quickfix Photo Organizing & Scanning. Importantly, Valerie hopes to increase the profile of BFI through networking and fundraising so that more Burundian lives can be empowered through self-sustainability and peace.

Krista Freitag
Krista Freitag – Board Member

Krista Freitag has expertise in project management, asset management, property management, accounting, forensics accounting, and financial services. Krista served as Managing Director and Consultant for Douglas Wilson Companies for nearly nine years before co-founding E3 Advisors where she has worked as Receiver for retail assets alone exceeding $300 million of asset value. She has also served as Receiver in several United States Securities and Exchange Commission cases exceeding $100 million of fraudulent activity. Krista holds a M.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from San Diego State University, a B.S. in Accounting from Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude, and a Master Certificate in Essentials of Hospitality Management from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. She served on the Board of Directors for Women’s Empowerment, Inc., a conduit for microcredit financing in impoverished countries, and was a San Diego County 2009 Tribute to Women in Industry (TWIN) Award honoree.

Beyond her wealth of financial experience, Krista loves to travel, exercise, and spend time with her friends and has been known to shoot a mean game of curling.

Nicholas Kawuka- Board Member
Nicholas Kawuka– Board Member

Nicholas has law degrees from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and the University of San Diego in San Diego, CA. His legal practice primarily focuses on civil litigation in both federal and state courts where he represents clients in intellectual property matters, business disputes, among other things. He joined the BFI Board in 2019 and hopes his experience will contribute to the growth of BFI and lead to further empowerment of the youth, women, and men of Burundi.

Barbara Kelly - Board Member
Barbara Kelly– Board Member

Barbara is a founding member of BFI and an educator with an undergraduate degree in English from Santa Clara University and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from California State University, Hayward. She has taught at the West Contra Costa School District and the Rancho Santa Fe School District. After retiring from a career she loved teaching elementary school, Barbara feels fortunate to have found the friendships, challenges, and rewards of involvement with Burundi Friends International.

Rene Headshot
Rene Keres – Board Member

Dr. René Keres completed her doctorate in psychology at Loma Linda University and has served the public in both the non-profit and government settings. Her expertise is in leadership development, systems, and in program evaluation, development and expansion. 

Dr. Keres travelled to Burundi in 2018 where she witnessed the impact being made by Burundi Friends International.  Meeting the people of Burundi and the passion of the BFI leaders inspired her to join the board in 2019.  Dr. Keres hopes her experience and entrepreneurial spirit will empower those that serve. 

Patricia Kidwingira
Patricia Kidwingira- Board Member

An African woman, citizen of Burundi, Patricia has studied and worked extensively in different countries and cultures, where she sought to contribute to the communities in which she worked and lived. Patricia has held various leadership roles in ToastMasters District 46 in New York and has a special interest in capacity building projects in Africa. She has contributed her time and expertise to launch the Institute of Internal Auditing in Burundi, and lectured Econometrics and Local Planning at the University of Burundi and Rwanda, helped in establishing a scholarship mechanism for AIDS orphans pursuing university education in Burundi and helped launch the first toastmasters club in Burundi.

Ashleigh Subramanian-Montgomery
Ashleigh Subramanian-Montgomery – Board Member

Ashleigh joined PartnersGlobal in 2019 as the Senior Program Associate for the Anglophone Sub-Saharan Africa portfolio, where she works on U.S. Department of State-funded projects focused on peacebuilding, access to justice, and rule of law in Nigeria, and on women, peace, and security more broadly. 

Prior to Partners, Ashleigh worked on: sustainable development and resource advocacy with the indigenous San community in Botswana; program design for gender equality, education, and youth empowerment in both Burundi and Timor-Leste; assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of UN peacekeeping missions in Israel, Palestine, and Syria; and advocacy and policy recommendations to the UN Security Council for Iraq’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. In the U.S., Ashleigh has worked in social service roles supporting homeless women and abused children.

She holds a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University, specializing in women, peace, and security, and human rights and humanitarian policy. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with a Minor in Theater, from the University of California, San Diego.

She dreams of glass ceilings the world over finally breaking.

Tracy Cambron West
Tracy Cambron West – Board Member

Since her graduation from Miami University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (having been refused a place in the School of Architecture because she was a “girl”), Tracy has been actively involved in an entrepreneurial career. She has created her own businesses as a general contractor designing and building passive solar houses in the 1970s, a tile contracting firm doing innovative work in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980s, and developing marketing, sales and distribution programs for tile and stone importers until her retirement three years ago. Her lifelong passion has been to foster opportunities for women in non-traditionally female fields, and to encourage avenues for all people to reach their highest potential.

Thierry Yungenge
Thierry Yungenge – Board Member

Thierry has had a passion for community service since his years in college. Thierry has supported various organizations and causes. He has donated and volunteered with local and international organizations such as the Clinton Global Initiative, ING Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and Junior Achievement. Mostly recently, Thierry spent three years as a volunteer for an Investment Challenge program sponsored by ING Foundation and Girls Inc., where he taught financial literacy and mentored inner city high school students in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Advisory Board

Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian, BFI Founder

Prosper Gahungu

Leonce Ndikumana

Alice Niyondagara

Doug Novak

Sylvia Teaching

We are happy to say there is not enough room to list and picture all of the volunteers involved on the BFI Team.  In Burundi, there are now over 2,293 Volunteer BFI English Club Instructors.  In the U.S. our volunteer team is comprised of over 35 individuals helping all aspects of our organization.  Interested in becoming involved in the BFI Team? Email Val Quick at Val.Q@bufri.org for more information. Thank you!

Burundi Friends International

Burundi Friends International (BFI) is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. We invite you to contact us to volunteer and join in our work to end poverty and create self-sustaining opportunities for Burundi, or donate to support BFI’s mission.