The team

RTI draws on the founding team’s extensive experience of setting up trauma, family counselling and resilience building projects in the UK, Kosovo and the Middle East and of working across cultures, with people who have been traumatised by migration, political conflict and torture. It also draws on the team’s experience of training other professionals and building the capacity of local community workers.

Executive Director 

Zarlasht Halaimzai

Zarlasht became a refugee herself at the age of 11, when she and her family fled the civil war in Afghanistan. Her experience led her to co-found Refugee Trauma Initiative in March 2015. She is part of the Rising Women Rising World project, which assembles leading women from all continents who are specialists in their respective fields.

Zarlasht has 8 years’ education programme development experience in humanitarian and development contexts. Previously, she has experience as an Education and Research consultant for various NGOs, including Save the Children where she helped to support 24,000 Syrian children in continuing their education. She has managed education programmes in conflict-affected states including Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2011, she co-founded the Skills Lab, an educational consultancy based in London, UK.

She holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy and Counselling. As Executive Director for RTI, Zarlasht leads on developing and managing new projects to support refugees in Greece and the UK.


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Country Director

Lina Issa

Lina is a clinical psychotherapist with nearly ten years’ experience of providing crisis intervention, counselling, training, therapy and mental health awareness sessions for international humanitarian organisations in the middle east, including the Palestinian camps. She has extensive experience of developing and implementing therapeutic activities for children with an emphasis on resilience, and training aid workers and teachers in how to work with children and families. In addition, Lina has taught French to refugees in France, and provided training to students on child development and positive education. As Country Director for RTI, Lina leads and manages the staff and programmes in Greece.



Rojena Tatour

Rojena has worked for over ten years with children and families as an Occupational Therapist. Having previously worked with IsraAid Lesvos and the Ministry of Education System in Nazareth, Rojena has wide-ranging experience including educational and development programmes for children and youth and providing occupational support. She is a specialist in training and professional consulting for families and educational staff.

Rojena has previously conducted interventions to help children improve, maintain and/or prevent deterioration, of functions and skills important to the health, personal well-being, security and quality of life. Rojena works with RTI to run its Early Childhood Development centre.


Programme Officer

Sebastian Lundby

Sebastian has worked on forced displacement issues since the onset of the refugee crisis, most recently as a Field Coordinator in Central Greece. Whilst completing his degree in MSc in Politics of Conflict, Rights and justice at SOAS, University of London, he authored an article on European immigration policies which was published in the Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration. After working with migrants detained in immigration detention centres in London, Sebastian contributed to UN policy on displacement at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. As Programme Officer for RTI, Sebastian supports all aspects of programme development and implementation, including day to day administration.



Yara Daw

Yara is an experienced child and adolescent psychologist with a background in providing emotional and psychosocial support to children and teenagers at risk, as well as coordinating activities and programmes responding to the needs of children and families in Haifa. As a coordinator of activities in the informal education sector, she promoted social values, equality and justice in the context of Arabic youth movements. Yara is trained in behavioural therapy focused on treating behavioural issues displayed by Alzheimer’s patients. She is also trained in using assistive technologies to assist persons with multiple disabilities. 

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Clinical Lead

Dr Debra Kalmanowitz

Dr Debra Kalmanowitz, HCPC, BAAT reg. artist and art-therapist has worked internationally for over 20 years with trauma, political violence, and social change alongside work with refugees and torture survivors in London and Hong Kong. Debra co-established the Art Therapy Initiative (ATI), a London based organization. She currently teaches at the Academic College of Society and the Arts (ASA-Israel) as well as working as an art therapist, trainer, supervisor and consultant. She is the Clinical Lead of Refugee Trauma Initiative (RTI) and the co-author of several books including The Portable Studio and the edited book Art Therapy and Political Violence: With art, without illusion.


Clinical Committee

Dr Jenny Altschuler

Jenny Altschuler, one of the founders of RTI, is a Clinical Psychologist and Family Psychotherapist with extensive experience of clinical work, supervision and training in the UK and abroad, with particular expertise in working with refugees, other migrants and people facing life-threatening illness. Some of her work with refugees is reflected in her recent book 'Migration, Illness and the Family' (2016).



Chair of the Board

Dr Scilla Elworthy

Dr. Scilla Elworthy is a peace builder who has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Scilla founded the Oxford Research Group in 1982 to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers worldwide and their critics, including a series of dialogues between Chinese, Russian and western nuclear scientists and military. She founded Peace Direct in 2002 to fund, promote and learn from local peace-builders in conflict areas. She was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize in 2003, and was adviser to Peter Gabriel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson in setting up ‘The Elders’. She co-founded Rising Women Rising World and advises the leadership of selected international corporations as well as training young social entrepreneurs.



David Altschuler

As well as being a trustee, David is also co-founder of RTI. He embarked on a career as a social entrepreneur some 25 years ago. He was Chairman of the Refusenik organisation and then co-founded the One to One Project which led to the formation of One to One Children’s Fund in 2001, with a mission to relieve the suffering of vulnerable children, wherever there is no government or other support.  David has overseen the development of ground-breaking HIV/AIDS support and treatment programmes in South Africa, trauma counselling programmes and day care centres in Kosovo and Israeli/Palestinian resilience building initiatives in the Middle East.  David is also the co-founder and Chairman of Paediatric AIDS Treatment for Africa (PATA), a network organisation of more than 350 HIV clinics across Africa, sharing best practice and treating more than 100,000 children born with HIV.



Mary MacLeod

Mary MacLeod has a long and distinguished career in children’s services, family policy, and academia. She currently serves as Interim Chairman of Great Ormond Street Hospital, Non-executive director of the Video Standards Council, Trustee of Columba 1400, and Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation Ethics Committee. She was awarded an OBE for services to children and families in 2008.