Who We Are

Aline Mihigo, Coffee Field Officer
Based in Bukavu, Aline Mihigo works as the Coffee Field Assistant for ECI. An experienced agronomist, Aline works to support the development of our coffee program in South Kivu, Kawa Bora ya Kivu. Aline studied agronomy at the Universite Evangelique en Afrique (UEA) in Bukavu, and speaks fluent French, Swahili and Lingala. She joined ECI in April 2013.

Alphonsine Mbela, Finance & Administration Manager
Alphonsine joined ECI in January 2013 and oversees the financial operations of ECI. Alphonsine has a wealth of experience in accounting, having previously worked for World Vision DRC, World Vision Zimbabwe and UNHCR. She has two degrees, in Economics and Human Resources Management, from the Universite Ouverte du Nord Kivu. Alphonsine was born and grew up in Goma, and speaks English, French, Swahili and Lingala.

Baraka Kasali, Program Officer
Baraka was born in Beni, DRC, but grew up in Nairobi and Chicago. A Program Officer at ECI since October 2012, Baraka leads ECI’s cocoa revitalization program. Baraka worked in marketing in Chicago for four years before returning to Congo, where he spent three years teaching English at a university in North Kivu. He also supported the development of student-led initiatives, such as the development of student government. Baraka studied at Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL, and speaks English, French and Swahili.

Claire Espey, Program Officer
With a background in maternal newborn and child health (MNCH), Claire assumed the role of Program Officer at ECI in August 2013. A native of Philadelphia, PA, Claire studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, where she received a Master’s degree in Health Promotion. Claire worked in the Epidemiology Department at Columbia for five years, before she joined the Global Health Corps and spent two years in Burundi running a rural, community-based clinic. Claire is charged with developed ECI’s MNCH strategy, and speaks English and French.

Dario Merlo, Country Director
Dario Merlo serves as ECI’s Country Director, bringing nearly a decade of leadership experience in international development to the organization. Born in eastern Congo, he previously worked for the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) as Country Director and managed community-centered conservation programs across DRC. Dario also previously worked for the North Kivu Farmer’s Association, overseeing a series of rural development initiatives, and owns a dairy farm in the province. He founded Promo Jeune Basket (PJB) in 2006, a grassroots organization that harnesses the dynamic impact that sports and basketball can have on children to build responsible Congolese citizens and future leaders, and continues to serve as President of PJB’s Board of Directors. Dario studied social sciences and geography at the University of Belgium in Brussels and went on to become a high school history teacher before moving back to DRC in 2005.

Emile KamwenubusaKBYK Deputy Chief of Party
Emile serves as the Deputy Chief of Party for the Kahawa Bora ya Kivu coffee project, partnering with Catholic Relief Services in South Kivu to work with three local coffee cooperatives. Emile joined ECI in 2014 with extensive experience as an Agronomist Engineer in the coffee sector. He began his career with the Burundian Ministry of Agriculture, and continued to develop his technical skills while working and consulting for private coffee washing companies. Emile also worked for the Burundi Agri-Business Program as Coffee Value-Chain Manager, and speaks English, French, Swahili, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda.

Harper McConnell, Director of Development & Operations
Harper has worked in DRC for more than seven years and started up the ECI office in DRC, developing organizational strategy and leading grant-making and program development in the field. Her regional expertise has been instrumental to the success of ECI in DRC and to developing ECI’s coffee and cocoa initiatives. Prior to working with ECI, Harper held positions of Program Officer and Director of Development at HEAL Africa, based both in Goma, DRC, and Seattle, WA. Harper holds two degrees from the University of Minnesota and speaks fluent English, French and Swahili.

Hubert PitroipaU.S. Finance and Administration Director
Hubert joined Eastern Congo Initiative in January 2014. He brings to the team his extensive experience with international non-profit and private sector organizations. At his previous position with Counterpart International, he managed the finances of USAID and USDA funded projects in Senegal, Mauritania and Niger. He has more than eight years of finance and accounting experience along with more than two years of experience teaching economics and accounting. Hubert has a Master's degree in Accounting and Financial Management and a Master's degree in Economics and Management. He is fluent in both French and English. 

Luc Ndyanabo, Logistics Officer
Luc works in Goma as Logistics Officer, and is responsible for arranging all field visits, security and procurement. Luc joined ECI in November 2010, and studied Economics and Management at Universite CEPROMAD. Luc was born and raised in Goma, and speaks English, French and Swahili.

Maguy Mujijima Paluku, Finance Officer
Originally from Bukavu, Maguy joined ECI in 2014 as a Finance Officer. Maguy earned her degree in Financial Management and Accounting from the University of Cepromad in 2010 after having already worked for Women for Women International as a secretary. During her studies, Maguy undertook community research for the World Food Programme. Following her studies, she worked with the local community-based organization AFEDEM where, in addition to accounting responsibilities, she managed of the gender component of the organization’s programs. Maguy speaks French, English, and Swahili.

Maryline Mwenge, Finance Assistant
Maryline has over a decade’s experience in financial administration of local and international non-governmental organizations in eastern Congo including current ECI partner HEAL Africa. She joined ECI in 2012, and supports ECI’s Finance Manager in overseeing the financial administration of ECI’s programs. Maryline grew up in Goma and studied Business Management & Administration at Universite Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs. Maryline speaks French and Swahili.

Tom O’Bryan, Advocacy & Communications Officer
Tom joined ECI in June 2013, and is charged with communicating the success stories of ECI’s partners in addition to integrating the voices of DRC civil society into ECI’s advocacy messages. He was raised in the UK, studying at the University of Exeter, and has coordinated advocacy initiatives for a number of organizations in the USA, Tunisia, and Western Sahara in addition to a British political party’s foreign policy department. Tom speaks English, French, and intermediate Arabic.