Director and Co-Founder
Zarlasht co-founded Refugee Trauma Initiative in 2016 after returning from the Syrian border, where she had advised INGOs on education and child wellbeing, to help refugees dealing with the emotional fallout of violence and displacement. She has worked for several aid organisations, including Save the Children. In the UK she has worked for the Young Foundation, the Studio Schools Trust and the Skills Lab – an education consultancy where she was a founding director. In 2018, Zarlasht was selected as a Fellow of the inaugural class of Obama Fellows, a group of 20 global leaders in civic innovation. Zarlasht and her family were forcibly displaced from Kabul when she was eleven years old. She arrived in the UK at age fifteen and was granted asylum.
“When I speak to people about our work I try to help them to understand the experience of displacement. It isn’t just physical displacement from home – it’s also an emotional fracture: you are separated from your family, your friends, and your language. That alone is difficult enough – most of the people have also lost a loved one and seen unimaginable violence. Starting over is only possible if they are supported through the transition.”
Head of Operations; Team Lead, Capacity Building
As Head of Operations and co-founder of RTI Greece, Natalia is RTI’s chief representative for all dealings with Greek agencies, including local government and non-governmental organisations. She has several years of experience in the field, both at large international NGOs and local grassroots organisations, and is RTI’s leading advocate for developing sustainable programmes within Greece. Natalia also leads RTI’s capacity building arm, which provides consultancy and training to organisations to assist them in implementing practices of service delivery and staff care that are both trauma-informed and identity-informed. She speaks French, Greek and English.
“It is so important now to keep focused on the ongoing humanitarian situation here in Northern Greece. The challenges the refugees still face are enormous and complex. We've been focusing on the challenge of integration, and for that we need help from two sides: we need practitioners who can communicate with the refugees in their own language; and we need local people who understand the Greek social services system and who can advocate on behalf of the refugees here in Greece.”
Administrative and Logistics Assistant
After many years working in the not-for-profit sector in the UK, primarily in social housing, Maria decided to change career path and look for something in the humanitarian sector. She soon began working in food distribution with a Greek organisation working in Idomeni camp at the peak of the crisis there in 2015-2016, and then moved to a position at a centre for unaccompanied minors in Thessaloniki. She speaks fluent Greek and English, and some French and Italian.
“Working in the humanitarian sector is more rewarding than anything I have done in my life. I feel fortunate to be so closely involved with people in need.”
Head of Advocacy and Development
Joel is a non-profit and humanitarian professional with experience operating on the U.S.-Mexico border and across Greece. As Head of Advocacy and Development, Joel plays a lead role developing and implementing RTI's strategies for fundraising, communications, social media, and public relations. Prior to joining RTI, Joel worked in a variety of operational roles and project management with a series of small humanitarian NGOs in Greece, and before that in policy analysis and legal representation roles in the United States. Joel studied History in University and International Relations in graduate school, and grew up in France, Spain, and the United States.
“Europe's migration crisis is not a crisis of migration, but rather a crisis of policy, for which we all bear some responsibility. Working from the field on up, we are in a unique position to observe, analyze, and inform policy decisions that can alter outcomes and affect thousands of lives. The migration crisis is not a crisis of migration, but rather a crisis of conscience—such that a proper understanding of individual and collective trauma is essential to guiding our way toward more enlightened and functional migration policy.”
Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Officer
Evelyn leads RTI's monitoring and evaluation processes, ensuring that we understand, enhance, and creatively report the impact of our programmes. She has degrees in Psychology and International Development and has professional experience from global NGOs through to non-profit start-ups. This includes Save the Children International and Freedom from Torture. In the UK, Evelyn volunteered with initiatives supporting refugees, and was a mentor for children from refugee backgrounds.
"Being forced to leave your home, seek safety elsewhere, and settle in a new community, is a long and stressful journey often with traumatising experiences along the way. This may include the loss of loved ones during the conflict that's been fled, or the isolation and disorientation of being in a new, unfamiliar, and even hostile country. So it’s crucial that the humanitarian sector attends to the layers of trauma many refugees carry with them. Culturally-sensitive and effective psychosocial programmes, like those provided by RTI, are essential for refugees to begin to heal, make connections with themselves and others, and gain hope for their futures."
Youth Programme Lead
Kostas has been working on the frontline of the refugee crisis in Northern Greece since 2016. He has experience both as a psychosocial support worker in camps and community centres across the region, and as a social worker for unaccompanied male youth.
At RTI, Kostas leads our youth programme, an initiative that seeks to accelerate the integration of young men by offering Project-Based Learning workshops that support their educational and professional development, teaching them skills for independent living, and providing psychosocial care.
"Feeling like a member of society is incredibly important for everyone. When someone tries to create a new life from scratch and with limited resources, the support that RTI provides acts as a foundation for the creation of that new life- it is an essential leg-up for young people who have faced great adversity and are seeking to put aside their past and move forward."
Zain joined the team in March 2018 and works from London, helping to raise RTI’s profile in the UK. He has worked for various NGOs, including Reprieve UK and the Centre for Criminal Appeals. He speaks English, French, Arabic and Russian.
“Many refugees have witnessed the deaths of family members and the destruction of their homes. When they arrive in Greece the struggle is far from over. The trauma of war and their continuing vulnerability cannot by dealt with through psychological first aid alone. It requires continuing care from trained professionals who speak their language and can make them feel safe and understood.”
Vassiliki has a Bachelor's degree in Preschool Educational Sciences and a Master's degree in Education for Intercultural Competence. Since 2015 she has worked with several organisations focusing on literacy and trauma-informed education for children and teens in between borders. She has worked in both urban and camp settings and led a two-year Educational Volunteering Programme at the Democritus University of Thrace. Vassiliki has visited 12 different kindergarten schools in 11 different countries in order to observe innovative educational approaches. She speaks Greek, English, German and Maltese.
“All types of borders are symbolic and it's all of us who cross them in different phases of our lives. Realising the importance of transitions is an essential element for individuals who work with people in between borders. At RTI we focus on strategies that provide the children with tools in order to deal effectively with the difficulties caused by unstable transitions. We believe, reflect and continuously build our approach in order to have a long term impact.”
Marianna has a bachelor´s degree in Interior Design and a master´s degree in Dance Movement Therapy. She has worked with groups at risk of social exclusion in various settings, both in Barcelona and Greece, from day care centers to hospitals. She has also experience working with children from 3 to 14 years old. She has attended seminars about the somatic and relational approach on trauma.
“As people working in the humanitarian sector and especially on the psychosocial support, our role is to help refugees rediscover their physical and emotional place in the world, that has been taken from them so abruptly. At RTI we are trying to offer a safe space for the children, where they can explore and express themselves, where they can build resilience and they can get the necessary tools in order to rediscover and recreate their own place in the world.”
Elena has degree in Early Childhood Education from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and is pursuing postgraduate studies in Educational Policy. Elena’s in-depth knowledge of the Greek education is a valuable asset to the Baytna programme, as it will enable the team to align their teaching practices with Greek mainstream education, giving our children the best possible chance of thriving when they enrol in school. She speaks Greek and English.
“Working with children can be like walking through a maze sometimes- you never know what surprises are hidden around each corner, or what ideas the children might have. I am always trying to engage with the children’s passions and interests, which makes the work fun and interesting. It also keeps you on your toes. After everything they have been through, children have the right to just be children without having to worry, feel scared, or be anxious. As Baytna teachers, our job is to provide them the necessary tools and skills to manage their anxieties so they can have the best chance in life.”
Originally from Afghanistan, Bagher first met RTI through the programme that we ran for unaccompanied young adults and was immediately interested in our work. He joined RTI as a youth trainee in Summer 2018 before gaining a full-time position as an assistant in our Baytna team. He speaks Dari, English and Greek.
“When I first joined RTI I was working in the youth programme. At first, I was a bit nervous about working with small children, but as soon as I joined a session I was instantly drawn in. The Baytna training I received gave me a lot of helpful tools, and now I have to opportunity to develop my skills. I am grateful to have the opportunity of working to support refugee families in Greece.”
Christian joined Baytna in Spring 2019. She is a certified interpreter and cultural mediator and has worked closely with with psychologists and social workers at large humanitarian organisations in Thessaloniki. She speaks Arabic and English and is learning Greek.
As a refugee myself, I can truly empathise with what families at Baytna have been through. It makes a big difference for them to know that I share their experiences and that they can communicate with me about them in their native language. I am so happy to be able to use my lived experience to help other refugees, and I love working with young children.
Salwa is a third year student of psychology and international relations. She works with RTI as an ECD asisstant, helping run activities for young children, such as mindfulness, relaxation, free play, crafts, and other creative activities. She speaks Kurdish and English and is learning Greek.
I enjoy being a member of the Baytna team because it helps me better understand child psychology. It helps me advance my psychology studies to be able to apply very basic therapy that I will be able to use in future if I specialize in child psychology.
Youth Leadership Trainee
Mojtaba is from Afghanistan and grew up in Iran. He arrived in Greece with his family in March 2016 and has lived in Thessaloniki for most of the last three years, and where he restarted the schooling that was interrupted when he left Iran. As a trainee in the Dinami youth programme, Mojtaba helps us connect with refugee youth communities, and ensures our programming is properly identity-informed.
“Due to my personal experience as a refugee, I can certainly say that I can understand this population very well and I can sympathise about all the difficulties that they face. RTI is a great opportunity for me to push myself. During the time that I have been working with the RTI team, I learnt to be more disciplined and develop my organization skills which I can use in my personal life as well.”