Our Team

Our approach is two-pronged. Board members periodically visit Burundi to determine the needs of the people that align with our mission. In the US, we develop projects based on those assessments, partner with governments and other nonprofits if and when necessary, raise funds through organized activities and recruit volunteers with the appropriate skills and drive to make a difference in the world in order to accomplish goals. Then we return to Burundi and, with the assistance of Burundian volunteers and organizations, carry out projects.

Meet the BFI Staff

Julie Marner – Executive Director | Julie.M@BuFri.org

BFI Executive DirectorJulie has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Colorado and a M.A. in Practical Theology from the University of San Diego. Currently, she works as Director of Missions and Music at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Oak Park, San Diego. As BFI’s part-time 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, her trips to Burundi have expanded beyond efforts in education to both economic empowerment and healthcare. Throughout her life, Julie has assisted many volunteer organizations focusing on the homeless, the imprisoned and the mentally ill.

Melissa Flores – Executive Administration Manager | Melissa.F@BuFri.org

BFI Executive Admin
Melissa has a BA in Anthropology from the University of California San Diego and works as an assistant office manager for Copia Wealth Management & Insurance Services.

Melissa enjoys helping and educating others and believes that by helping other’s reach their goal, one will in turn reach his/her own goal. In her free time, Melissa enjoys traveling, yoga, reading, outdoor activities and volunteering at other local nonprofits.

Karorero Xavier – BFI In-Country President | Email Karorero

Karorero XavierKaroero works to better his country through his leadership as a manager of BFI English Clubs. He is a teacher, a leader, and an inspiration to other Burundian youth. Like so many inspiring leaders, his journey of emerging into the person he is today is fraught with hardships, struggles, and obstacles. He has responded to theses challenges with a heart for service and leadership. He attends Hope Africa University and is pursuing a bachelor degree in marketing.

Cindy Petersen – BFI Consultant | Email Cindy

Cindy PetersenThe topics that engage Cindy are the intersection of arts and business globally, strategic planning, closing the creativity gap, the design of interactive spaces, and community engagement projects. Cindy is motivated when confronted with continual challenge, a changing environment and working in a global team. Descriptors include perceptive, creative, strategic thinker, visionary, detail-oriented, and team builder.

Meet the BFI Officers

Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian- Founder | Jeanine.N@BuFri.org

BFI FounderJeanine has an executive MBA from J.L. Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University and B.S degree with a double major in International Business and Marketing from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.  For twelve years, she worked globally for Valmont Industries and Emerson Electric, in marketing, business development and general management. For six years, she operated her own Consulting and Engineering business in Wireless Telecom and currently promoting Burundi Specialty. Driven by her dream to help her native country, Burundi, Jeanine founded Burundi Friends International (BFI) in 2007 with a group of women at a UCSD retreat.

Liz Clarke – Chair of the Board | Liz.C@BuFri.org

Liz ClarkeLiz has a BA in Sociology from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT. After not changing the world single-handedly, she gained several years’ experience in the field of accounting & bookkeeping. For the last 25 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 and caring for her beautiful granddaughter. 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.

Barbara Kelly – Secretary / Treasurer| Barbara.K@BuFri.org

BarbaraBarbara 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.

Meet the BFI Board

Leonce Ndikumana- Board Member |   Leonce.N@BuFri.org

BFI Leonce Head Shot 200 x 200Leonce works as a Professor of Economics and Director of African Policy Programs at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is also an Honorary Professor of Economics at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa and a member of the United Nations Committee on Development Policy. He has a PhD and an MA in Economics from Washington University and a BA in economics from the University of Burundi. His work on external debt and capital flight from Africa, as well as the economics and politics of conflicts and civil wars in Africa has been featured in numerous publications and received awards including the Dudley Seers Memorial Prize for best article in Volume 38 of the Journal of Development Studies.

Prosper Gahungu- Board Member | Prosper.G@BuFri.org

BFI ProsperProsper has a passion for teaching youth and has over fifteen years of hands on experience teaching Mathematics to students of different backgrounds. He holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from California Polytechnic University. Prosper currently works as a Math teacher in Long Beach, CA. and speaks English, French, Kirundi and Swahili.

Over the years, Prosper has participated in conception, fundraising and building of Irtyazo elementary school in Burundi and helped create a nonprofit language center (ICL) in Bujumbura that has help serve the community for the last nineteen years.

Nicole Velasquez- Board Member |  Nicole.V@BuFri.org


Nicole has an M.B.A. from the University of Texas and a BA in Economics from Rice University. She currently works as an MBA Marketing Intern for Starbucks Corporation in Seattle, Washington. Her background includes successfully developing marketing campaigns with Disney, Chevron, Starbucks, Microsoft and many others. Nicole has visited over 20 countries and enjoys running marathons, cycling and cooking in her spare time.

Carolina Martin- Board Member |  Carolina.M@BuFri.org

BFI Carolina Martin 200 x 200Carolina Martín is Executive Director of Students Rising Above. She is a recognized leader in supporting the well-being of young adults and children and has served in executive level positions at several nonprofit organizations in the San Francisco-Bay Area. For the past eight years, she was Senior Vice President of DonorsChoose.org, where she was responsible for building new corporate partnerships. Before that, she served as Executive Director of Summerbridge and worked at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, where she served as the Director of Community & Scholar Relations. A former elementary school teacher, Martín also served as Vice President for Hispanic Initiatives at Sallie Mae in California. She has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of San Diego.

Thierry Yungenge – Board Member | Thierry.Y@BuFri.org

BFI ThierryThierry 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.

Neil James – Board Member | PR@BuFri.org

Neil James Director or MarketingNeil has a passion for technology and its application to compassionately serve “the least of these” at a personal level in a manner that permanently enhances their quality of life and hope for the future.  Neil serves as Head of Marketing for BFI, and supports our website, social media and all electronic presentations as well as the annual report.  With more than 35 years of experience in all aspects of technology Neil presently serves as President of Rain Marketing & Consulting, Inc. in San Diego, CA.

Doug Novak – Board Member | Doug.N@BuFri.org

Doug Novak President CEODoug Novak is the President & CEO of Strategic Information Group. Doug brings over 30 years of corporate and business experience in operations management, hands-on consulting and consulting management experience from a wide variety of experience ranging from Big 4 consulting firms to global, industry-leading manufacturing firms. Doug holds a BSIE from the University of Nebraska and an MBA from the University of South Dakota.


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 2,000 Volunteer BFI English Club Teachers.  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 Julie Marner at Julie.m@bufri.org for more information. Thank you!

BFI Hands No Pad


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 opportunity for Burundi, or donate to support BFI’s mission.