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.”
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
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.”
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.”
Project Lead: Mindfulness
Ghaleb is leading the development of our Mindfulness Project. The programme aims to bring regular mindfulness practice to refugees, and will work closely with the local community to build an evidence-based model that is both trauma-informed and culturally sensitive. The project will also promote and facilitate mindfulness practice among the local humanitarian community. Ghaleb is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at UC Berkeley, for which the focus of his research is on how people organise for political and social change. He speaks Arabic and English.
"Entire communities of people have been uprooted and displaced, and entire communities need to be rebuilt. Our work aims not only to assist refugees in addressing their immediate psychological and social challenges, but also to find ways for them to heal collectively. Refugees know themselves best and are incredibly resilient, and practices like mindfulness provide a way of enabling them to take charge of their lives.”
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."