Executive Director: Tsegaye Bekele

Tsegaye 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.

Program Director: Donna Sillan, MPH

Donna 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 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 co-founded 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.
Visit her website

Finance Officer: Willem J. Boot

Willem is president of Boot Coffee Consulting & Training in Mill Valley, California, specializing in strategic consulting for coffee companies, green coffee producers and international coffee organizations. As an international consultant, Boot has been working in Africa, Latin America and Europe. He was the head judge in various international coffee events in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras and Panama. As a consultant he has been working on various coffee-projects for USAID, the Inter American Development Bank and private coffee companies. Each year, Willem donates a month of his time to assist subsistent coffee communities with educational projects and quality upgrading. In the past years he volunteered for projects in Ethiopia, Mexico, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia and Kenya.
Visit his website at:

Director:  Porter Merriman 

Porter is Director and Senior Corporate Counsel at Autodesk.   With over 20 years of experience in emerging technology legal issues, she counsels the company on issues relating to global marketing and business strategy.  Ms. Merriman joined Autodesk in 2006, after a career in Silicon Valley in both private practice and as in-house counsel .  She operated her private practice and dabbled in the wine business for several years before being lured back into the corporate wold by the opportunity to work at Autodesk.  She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of California at Santa Barbara in Business Economics.  She is the proud mother of a daughter born in Aleta Wondo, Ethiopia, and has been an enthusiastic supporter of Common River since 2008.

Director:  Ruth Berggren, M.D., FACP

Ruth directs the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. In this role, she teaches ethics and professionalism while nurturing empathy and humanitarian values. The Center focuses on four areas: ethics and professionalism; global health; community service learning; and the medical humanities (literature, music and art).

The daughter of public health physicians (Drs. Warren and Gretchen Berggren, Donna’s mentors), Dr. Berggren spent her childhood at Haiti’s Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, named for the Nobel Prize-winning physician and humanitarian known for his philosophy of reverence for life. Board-certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases, Dr. Berggren has extensive experience in clinical AIDS and viral hepatitis care and research, as well as HIV care in resource-poor settings.  She started and oversees the “Ethiopia Outreach” program which sends 8 medical students and 2 medical professors each year to Common River to practice both clinical and community health.



Find out how your visit, medical volunteering, international internship, student volunteering, volunteer teaching and / or donations can help us reach our goal of sustainable development in Aleta Wondo, Ethiopia. For more information about Common River and how you can help, contact us today.