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
Natalia is in charge of organising all projects across RTI. She holds a Master’s in International Humanitarian Aid from UCLouvain in Belgium, and has a wealth of experience in the humanitarian field. She has worked in Emergency Response at the International Rescue Committee, and has also worked in small, local organisations helping to alleviate poverty in Thessaloniki. 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.”
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.”
Project Lead: Baytna
Rojena leads our Early Childhood Care and Development Programme. She has over ten years of experience working with children and families as an occupational therapist. She has worked to develop educational programmes specifically for children and young adults. Her first language is Arabic, but she is also fluent in English and speaks some Greek.
“It was when I left my job in Nazareth to work with refugees in Lesvos that I realised that this was where I needed to be. I really believe that if you can create a safe space for refugee children and their families, after everything they have been through, and give them a chance to play and relax, you can make a real difference. You can build trust and create positive experiences that will carry them through.”
Psychosocial Support Worker
Myriam has a Bachelor’s degree in Contemporary Culture and Society from Dublin City University and a Master’s in International Relations. She has been working with the migrant context for two years, first as a Cultural Mediator involved in Search and Rescue, and then in a children’s clinic outside Moria Camp on Lesvos. While in Lesvos, the clinic opened a psychosocial support unit, and she started facilitating sessions with children and unaccompanied minors who had been referred after exhibiting signs of trauma, including anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares and psychosomatic pain. The interventions used included drawing, play, drama, meditation and story-telling. She speaks English and Arabic and is studying Greek and French.
Head of Advocacy and Development
Zain joined the team in March 2018 and works from London, helping to raise RTI’s profile and create a platform from which to advocate for the rights of refugees globally. His experience includes journalism and law, as well as working 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.”
Psychosocial Support Worker
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.”
Dance and Movement Therapist
Myrto has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Anthropology and a Master’s degree in Dance Movement Psychotherapy. She has studied dance, theatre, yoga and many different methods of movement in Greece and Spain. Since 2015, she has been practicing dance movement psychotherapy to groups of children at social risk and people with special needs. In the last two years she has worked for several humanitarian organisations including UNICEF and Mercy Corps, facilitating sessions with migrant women and children in Barcelona, Lesvos and now Thessaloniki. She speaks Greek, Spanish and English, and is studying Arabic.
"My purpose is to continue working with women and children around the world cultivating save spaces, self-confidence and a mutual support between them. In RTI we are working on that through the respect, curiosity and empathy, setting up creative and comfort spaces where we provide tools for the best emotional, physical and social well-being for each individual."
Youth Integration Officer
Kostas has been working on the frontline of the refugee crisis in Northern Greece since 2016. He is experienced 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 he leads our youth integration programme, an initiative that seeks to accelerate the integration of young men by supporting their educational and professional development, teaching 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."
Youth Leadership Trainee
Bagher has joined RTI as the first trainee in our youth leadership scheme. Originally from Afghanistan, he first came into contact with RTI through the youth integration programme that we ran for unaccompanied minors who turn 18. Immediately interested in our work and passionate about helping the refugee community, he came on board in Summer 2018. He speaks Farsi, Dari, English and Greek.
“I really enjoy the friendly and supportive environment at RTI. I have the chance to participate in all the youth projects, learn new things and work with young refugees. I am also gaining work experience and developing leadership skills that will help me to achieve a change in my community. Plus, most of the projects are in English and Greek, so it helps me to practice and develop my language skills. This is the first time that I am in a traineeship; it is great to be working with professionals.”
Staff Care Consultant
Kate Sheese is a critical social psychologist specialising in protecting psychological well-being when working in conflict and crisis. She works as a research associate at the Sigmund Freud University Berlin where she teaches courses in psychosocial issues in the support of refugees and organisational psychology. Kate is a Doctoral Candidate in critical social psychology at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and is completing a dissertation on the moral economy of international volunteer aid in the context of the refugee crisis in Greece, where she coordinated volunteer medical aid and the psychosocial support for volunteers in 2015 and 2016.
Kate is working with RTI as a consultant to develop a manual that RTI will use to develop culturally sensitive principles of staff and self care at other organisations as part of RTI’s work to build local capacity.