Tsegaye Bekele was born in the Sidama region of Ethiopia. His parents were two of the founders of the Aleta Wondo town, starting local coffee farms and small businesses, bringing the town its first electricity. Their legacy is one of great compassion for the people and Tsegaye returns to continue on his family’s path. After graduating from agricultural engineering school in Germany, he could not return to Ethiopia as his family’s lands were confiscated. He then studied Social Science at University of Maryland’s Berlin campus. In 1976, he settled in Marin, building a plumbing business with over 30 employees to service the Greater Bay Area, and owns Absolute Leak. He has two children and 2 grandchildren. Tsegaye speaks fluent English, German, Amharic and street Sidamo. He has donated his family property in Aleto Wondo to Common River and utilizes his connections and lasting good will to benefit his hometown.
Donna Sillan is an experienced international public health consultant, working in 40 countries over the past 31 years for large NGOs. Her specialty is community-based nutrition and she wrote a manual on the “Positive Deviance” approach, which has been translated into 7 languages. Her development career began resettling Southeast Asian refugees for IRC (International Rescue Committee) in San Jose, California and then moved to Thailand to work in Vietnamese, Khmer and Laotian refugee camps for two years. Upon return from Asia in the early 1980′s, she resettled Ethiopian refugees in California. After completing her Masters Degree in Public Health, she moved to Indonesia where she managed an urban USAID Child Survival program for Save the Children for 9 years in the slums of Jakarta. She became an independent consultant in 1997 and conducts trainings in public health, nutrition, as well as, designing and evaluating maternal and child health programs throughout the developing world. In 2007, Donna decided to settle in one village and formed her own non-profit organization with Tsegaye Bekele in Ethiopia. As co-founder of Common River, she distilled the best practices that resonated with her from her vast NGO experience and has based Common River’s development principals on them. She has one son in college and an adopted daughter from Vietnam in high school. She is the godmother of 2 Ethiopian adopted children who live in Mill Valley and Abraham, her “son” in Aleta Wondo, along with 135 other school children. Although she is a firm promoter of small families, she has to qualify what is a “small family,” as she strongly advocates for the adoption of family planning. Visit her website at: http://www.donnasillan.com