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. 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.”
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.”
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.”
Yara is a Child and Adolescent Psychologist who has several years of experience providing emotional and psychosocial support to children and teenagers at risk. In Haifa, she worked with Arab youth movements to promote social values, equality and justice. She is also trained in behavioural therapy, and speaks Arabic, English, Italian and Hebrew. Yara works with refugees, volunteers and aid workers to help support emotional wellbeing.
“Refugees live in countries where they do not understand the language around them, and they wait, powerless, as decisions are made about their futures. They live a constant feeling of instability. When parents tell me how their children talk about RTI’s groups at home, and how they cannot wait to come back, it means that the space that we have created for them is somewhere they feel they belong and can have that sense of stability.”
Tonia is a psychotherapist in our Early Childhood Care and Development team. When the refugee crisis escalated on the Northern Greek border, she immediately went to volunteer, and after two months she started working as a supervisor in the child-friendly space in Idomeni, organizing and overseeing activities for 150 children at a time. She holds a Master’s Degree in Dance and Movement Psychotherapy from Edinburgh University.
“The amazing thing about non-verbal therapies like movement therapy is that they allow children and people of all ages to recognise and understand their own emotions. For example, I can allow a child to take out their anger, not on other people but with a ball, or a stick and some pillows, and I can support them through it. If you give a child a safe environment in which to be angry, sad, or even happy, they can learn to be comfortable with that emotion.”
Kostas is the lead social worker in our integration project, which we run in partnership with Ethos. He works closely with the young men in our programme, helping them to build a personal action plan and preparing them for independent living and employment. Kostas is particularly experienced in working with young refugees and unaccompanied minors, having worked extensively in camps and shelters throughout the refugee crisis.
“Being and feeling like a member of a society is extremely important for everyone. When it comes to helping someone to build a new life with limited resources, that sense of integration is absolutely fundamental, and I believe that we all have a responsibility to help that process. It gives me great satisfaction to work with young people who have faced enormous adversity and want to put the past aside and move forward."
Caretaker: Ethos Youth Integration Project
As caretaker at our Ethos Integration project, Giannis provides pastoral support to our unaccompanied youths, and practical assistance with daily activities when required. He is also the first point of contact in case of emergency. Working so closely with the young men requires sensitivity and commitment. Giannis has both of these in spades, as well as a wealth of practical experience that helps guide the young men towards independent living.
“After just a few months of working with the young men, I can already see the great benefit that they are receiving from our work. They are more confident, and they interact more readily with each other, with our team, and with everyone they meet. It has been incredibly rewarding seeing them start to take initiative, to gain control of their lives and to open up to us about the difficulties and experiences they have faced.
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.”