About the
Asch Center







Refugee Initiatives at the Asch Center

Under the guidance of Director of Refugee Initiatives Arancha Garcia del Soto, the Asch Center has been engaged in several efforts toward providing practice-based, scholarly and policy-focused support to refugees and those organizations serving this vulnerable yet resilient population. The work with survivors of violence and the theoretical/research approach to their realities often employ different standards and practices, but we are working to identify and strengthen bridges between the two.

Examples of refugee initiatives include the following:

Local Empowerment Programs for Communities in Conflict

The Solomon Asch Center is pursuing an initiative to develop and implement programs in conflict areas to accompany local representatives who can help restore their community's recovery through a number of projects, including self-care programs, job training, education programs, and psychosocial programs. These local empowerment programs are planned as short-term interventions, locally sustained, followed by a post-training supervision system to secure their efficacy and sustainability.  To date, since 1992, Arancha has conducted pilot local empowerment programs in Slovenija, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Peru, Guatemala, Colombia, Nigeria, Liberia, and Sri Lanka, as well as evaluations in Angola, Sri Lanka, and the Balkans.

Sierra Leone

Working in collaboration with Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC) headquartered in Philadelphia and its Sierra Leone affiliate SLOIC based in Freetown, this training program focused on psychosocial counseling on gender-based violence in rural areas, including Bo, Mattru Jong and Makeni.  In each case, an initial needs assessment was followed by a training seminar and the creation of an ongoing support group.  Monitoring is maintained currently with the support of OIC and the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). Lakshmi Ramarajan of the Wharton School at Penn is developing a Ph.D. partly based on this experience.

Sri Lanka

Field work includes ongoing visits to Sri Lanka since 2003 to conduct capacity-building workshops with local NGOs, particularly the Psychosocial Support Programme (PSP) and the Consortium for Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) and in partnership with the Asia Foundation. Presentations in Colombo included several talks on international approaches to psychosocial and human rights work at the Center for International Ethnic Studies and the University of Colombo, as well as a workshop in Kalutara titled Development Work in Sri Lanka: The Challenges of Integrating a Psychosocial Perspective (co-presented by the CHA and PSP in July 2004).

The most recent effort is a concept paper in preparation by Dr. Garcia del Soto, Monitoring and Evaluating Psychosocial Work in Sri Lanka from 2005, describing a proposal for a decentralization mechanism for post-tsunami psychosocial work further developed by local psychologists, demographers and psychosocial workers integrating evaluation and assessment. The PADHI programme is currently under development through the Social Policy Analysis Research Centre at the University of Colombo based on this proposal.

Dr. Garcia del Soto is also participating on the University of Pennsylvania Team for Tsunami Response, with the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and the Urban Studies/Design  Department under the leadership of Tom Kecskemethy. The Asch Center also conducted a training session for a group of undergraduates in July prior to their departure for Sri Lanka, as part of the post-tsunami rebuilding project. The GSE Team also met in New York with representatives from the International Rescue Committee. In January and February 2006, Penn GSE, Design, and the Asch Center conducted a needs assessment in Sri Lanka covering Colombo, Batticaloa, Hambantota, and Ampara.


We are supporting an international, inter-organizational effort locally represented by ECAP (Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Team) and GAC (Community Action Group, Madrid) in Rabinal, Guatemala to conduct an action research project evaluating the impact of exhumations of the disappeared on local communities. Funding for this initiative came from the Psychosocial Working Group.


Since January 2005 we are also collaborating with Comite Andino, the local branch of the American Friends Service Committee in Lima in their support and accompaniment of CONDECOREP, an umbrella group representing displaced indigenous communities in their advocacy for community-level reparations and AFRO-PERUVIAN organizations. We are also supporting an initiative by ASFADEL, one of the CONDECOREP core organizations, to raise funds for school supplies for children of displaced families.

In addition to the research mentioned above, there is a project to advance the mental health reparations for survivors of violence. A meeting in Lima organized by the Universidad Cayetano Heredia, McGill University in Montreal, and IPAZ, Ayacucho was part of this initiative at the end of November 2005.


In the fall of 2005, Dr. Garcia del Soto spent a month teaching at the University of Ibadan Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CEPACS), where she was supporting the Refugee Studies Section, supervising students, and enhancing cooperation with other institutions. Her trip completes the academic exchange program funded by the MacArthur Foundation, which brought Nigerian scholars Bayo Okunade and Rotimi Suberu to the Asch Center earlier in 2005.


In August/September 2005, Dr. Garcia del Soto participated in a three-day workshop with local and international NGOs and scholars organized by University President Al-Hassan Conteh and the University of Monrovia. The workshop, held in Monrovia, focused on psychosocial work and included visits to refugee and displaced persons settings.  


As a board member of EQUITAS, the Asch Center started in October 2005 to be engaged in accompanying family members of the disappeared in the Colombian current war.  

Training Modules

Dr. Garcia del Soto has been working with Dr. Gerry D'Alessio and other colleagues on the development of brief training modules designed specifically to help advance the background of NGO staff in areas of psychology relevant to work in regions of ethnopolitical conflict. The first module--Help to Helpers--is now completed  and it contains additional information on Trauma, Community Work, and Evaluation. The Help to Helpers Training Module consists of a two-day intensive workshop; the syllabus includes an integrated set of academic articles, NGO reports, and practice manuals. This module, along with CD materials, is also being developed in a format appropriate for distance learning workshops.

NGO Network of Refugee-Related Agencies in Philadelphia

Dr. Garcia del Soto, in collaboration with the Liberty Center for Survivors of Torture, has instituted a growing program of monthly meetings at the Solomon Asch Center, called the Pennsylvania Refugee Mental Health Network. This network includes local NGOs in the Philadelphia area: the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Geneva Global, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Liberty Center for Survivors of Torture, Lutheran Family and Children Service (LFCS), and Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC), among others. These organizations are working on refugee and asylum-seeker issues, both overseas and inside the U.S. The goal of these meetings is to provide a regular forum for the sharing of concerns and ideas, and to strengthen connections in order to facilitate future collaborations.

In addition, Dr. Garcia del Soto participates in several ongoing collaborations with Philadelphia organizations: Liberty Center for Survivors of Torture (education and supervision activities), Community of Bosnia (selection of applications and board meetings), Casa de los Soles (board meetings and capacity building with staff; community assessments for the Mexicans in Philadelphia), Nationalities Service Center (board meetings and educational assessments), and InterAct Theatre (educational speaker at several ethnopolitical conflict-related theatre presentations).

Advocacy through Film

Dr. Garcia del Soto has been collaborating with Robert Cargni, Associate Film Curator at International House in Philadelphia to put together several film series focused on cinematic representations of ethnopolitical conflict. Recent events include: History, Memory, and Cinematic Representation (a film festival in January 2005), Selections from the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (held in May 2005), and a visit from Serbian director Goran Radovanovic in September 2005 to present three films regarding post-war life in the Balkans. A new human rights film series will be held in February 2006 at International House with movies from Sri Lanka, Peru, Brazil, the Balkans and the United States.

Advocacy through Education

In aiming to bring forward issues surrounding international work and refugee assistance in particular, Dr. Garcia del Soto is committed to giving talks and short courses at various local and international institutions. Recently, these have included: Arcadia College (Philadelphia), Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, PA), the Baldwin School (Bryn Mawr, PA), Fordham University (New York), Akiba Hebrew Academy (Merion, PA), Agnes Irwin School (Philadephia), University of Stellenbosch and University of Western Cape (South Africa), University of Colombo (Sri Lanka), University of Monrovia (Liberia), University of Ibadan (Nigeria), and University of Salamanca and Pontificia de Comillas (Spain).

The Psychosocial Working Group

The Psychosocial Working Group (PWG) is a collaboration among academic institutions and humanitarian agencies committed to developing the best practice of psychosocial interventions in complex emergencies.  Partners are committed to networked research and collaborative development of these most challenging projects. The PWG was established in 2000 with the support of the Andrew Mellon Foundation. Meetings of the ten international partners who comprise the group were convened at the Asch Center in Philadelphia (November 2003), Edinburgh, Scotland (June 2004), and New York (October 2005).

Transitional Justice and Psychosocial Work

In collaboration with colleagues in South East Asia and Latin America, collection of survey data and writing regarding the perceptions of justice, revenge, memory, forgiveness, reparations and impunity is currently under design to be developed in these geographical settings.

Recent Publications

Garcia del Soto, A. & Cherfas, L. (In press). Representations of humanitarian action and development work: Explicit questions and blurred motivations. Chapter forthcoming from Fordham University's Center for International Health and Cooperation, New York, NY.

Garcia, J., Gonzalez Robles, R., Mir Araujo, A. Garcia del Soto. A. Corrupcion del Sector Publico en Mexico: Representaciones Sociales en la comunidad de Abogados de D.F. 2005.

Garcia del Soto, A. & Cherfas, L. (Spring 2005). Sri Lanka: Disaster relief in a context of conflict. The Just Word: Newsletter of the Ignacio Martin-Baro Fund for Mental Health and Human Rights, 11(1), 3-4.

Hromadzic, A. & Garcia del Soto, A. (2005). From individual suffering to collective activism: Academic and community approaches to the Bosnian War Rapes, Ethnocentrism and Minority Rights in the Balkans. In S.M. Burn (Ed). Women across cultures: A global perspective (Second ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

Kagee, A. & Garcia del Soto. A. (2005) Taking issue with trauma. Acta Geographica.

D'Alessio, G.R. & Garcia del Soto, A. (Unpublished).  What is really therapeutic: A look at NGO psychosocial interventions in the aftermath of crisis.





Current Activities



back to top