Governance and Leadership

Louis Downs, PhD,
former Vice-President, Board member, and Director of the South-East Asian Mental Health Program,

Louis Downs received his doctorate in Counseling from Oregon State University after having spent more than 17 years as a counselor and clinical administrator.  He is presently a Professor at California State University Sacramento in the Department of Counselor Education.  His clinical specialties include survivors of trauma, disaster mental health relief, and crisis work, dissociative disorders, personality disordered states, anxiety disorders and co-occurring disorders.  He has is a specialist in school counseling, having coauthored two books on the subject, and is a specialist in school counseling students with neuropsychological disorder as well as with gifted students. He has consulted and trained counselors in Brunei Darussalam, developed a school-based PTSD program for the Phang Nga region of Thailand, collaborated with the Bureau of Innovative Programs of the Ministry of Eduction of Thailand to develop a new school guidance system for the country, and been a Fellow of the PERMATApintar Gifted Student Program at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.  Further, he has taught post traumatic stress disorder and critical incident process debriefing counseling to the Singapore Armed Forces Counselling Centre, trained the primary disaster mental health relief teams of the State of Penang, Malaysia and of Sichuan Province, Peoples’ Republic of China after the earthquake of 2008.  He has fulfilled two Fulbright Fellowships.  Having finished a 3 year term as curriculum advisor to the New Era College Department of Guidance and Counseling Psychology in Kajang, Malaysia, and as clinical consultant to the Qing-jian Counseling Center in Shanghai, China, he is presently on the advisory board of Turning Point Integrated Wellness Center, Puchong, Malaysia.  He is also a member of the American Bar Association Round Table expert witness pool and a lifetime member of PERKAMA, the counseling association of Malaysia.



Claudio Cabrejos, MD, MPH,
Director, Latino Immigrant Trauma Program
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UC San Diego School of Medicine, VIRTIS, Board of Directors, member

Claudio was born to his Peruvian father and Brazilian mother in Lima, Peru where he later obtained his medical degree from Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. He received a Masters of Public Health at the University of Miami and his postgraduate training includes a Psychiatry residency at Tulane University, an APA Fellowship in Public Health Psychiatry, and an Addiction Psychiatry residency at Yale University. He is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and by the American Board of Addiction Psychiatry. Claudio’s cross-cultural studies in PTSD include the impact of trauma and displacement in victims of violence caused by 15 years of civil war in the Peruvian Andes. This field work included adaptations of psychosocial assessments and community-based interventions to improve the health and well-being of the native population. His disaster relief work also includes Hurricane Aftermath Relief with a special recognition from the Health and Medical Services, FEMA/USPHS. He has also worked as a Staff Psychiatrist in the Veterans Administration Hospital in New Orleans. Currently, Claudio is a Community Psychiatrist in a variety of San Diego clinics that target underserved populations including Latino immigrants, the Homeless, and HIV positive clients. He serves as the Medical Director of Health Care for the Homeless, San Diego. He is also a Staff Psychiatrist for an Acute Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit and is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, School of Medicine. Other areas of professional interest include traditional indigenous medicine and health policy. He is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.



Ambassador Dr. Maliha Zulfacar
VIRTIS Scientific Advisory Board

The Ambassador began her career as a Sociology professor at Kabul University , until 1979 when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forced her and her family to flee to Germany. After living as in the largest concentration of Afghan immigrants in Germany, Dr. Zulfacar moved to the United States to earn her Masters and Doctorate degrees and join the faculty at Cal Polytechnic University. The Professor worked with educated Afghan women living abroad, trying to improve women’s rights and lives in their native country. Following years of service to her home country, Zulfacar was handed the honor to serve in 2006-2009 as Afghanistan’s second female ambassador to Germany. This position was a new opportunity for the diplomat to contribute to the country’s reconstruction. Zulfacar worked hard hosting cultural and political events in an effort to expose Germans to Afghan society and help show that there is more to Afghanistan’s heritage and history than the Taliban. After three years serving as Ambassador, Zulfacar is back in the United States, still striving to make a difference. In the lecture hall, the Professor encourages her students to examine places outside of U.S. borders and seek solutions to global problems.


Amir Hamidi, PhD
Vice-Chair, VIRTIS Scientific Advisory Board

Dr. Amir Hamidi presently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Threat Deterrence, where he specializes in the application of Information Sharing and Information Security solutions for Homeland Security and Law enforcement professionals. He was formerly assigned as a Resident Special Agent in Charge of Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Sacramento District Office, and San Francisco Field Division. Of Dr. Hamidi's nearly 33 years of domestic and international experience in Law Enforcement, 24 years were served whenever the United States Department of Justice needed his consultation and assistance on National Security Projects. Dr. Hamidi provided training to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and State and local agencies in the area of International Terrorism and Middle Eastern Affairs. For Dr. Hamidi the world is never unfamiliar. As the Pacific Region Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCEDTF) Coordinator he led interdiction efforts across 165 million square kilometers.

Dr. Hamidi was also tasked by the United States Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, office of the Administrator to establish Dubai, United Emirates Country Office and served as Country Attaché. Dr. Hamidi’s extensive understanding of the use of transportation nodes in the support of illicit networks has made him Threat Deterrence’s “go to” person to support issues pertaining to transportation threats and issues around the globe.



Heike Thiel de Bocanegra, PhD, MPH
Director, VIRTIS Office of Grants & Research, Member, Scientific Advisory Group

Dr. Thiel de Bocanegra is the Director of University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) team in Sacramento which provides program support, monitoring, and evaluation of Family PACT (Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment). The Family PACT Program is administered by the California Department of Health Services, Office of Family Planning. She obtained her MA in psychology from the University of Bielefeld, Germany, her MPH from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her doctoral degree in public health from New York University. Her doctoral dissertation explored predictors of breastfeeding among immigrant women in New York City. She has over 20 years of program management and health service research experience in primary care and reproductive health issues in international and national projects. In Peru she supervised the implementation of 20 demonstration primary care projects that informed the health policy of Peru’s Ministry of Health. From 1991 to 2000, Dr. Thiel de Bocanegra was a Research Scientist and Associate Director at the Center on Immigrant Health, NYU School of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine. The Center’s mission is to improve access to primary care and quality of care of New York’s immigrant population. In her capacity as Vice President of Research and Evaluation at Safe Horizon, New York (former: Victim Services Agency), she oversaw applied research and evaluation projects of programs serving victims of crime, terrorism, and abuse, including intimate partner violence, sexual assault and rape. Areas of Interest: intimate partner violence and reproductive health; racial/ethnic disparities; cultural competence; access to care



Naum Khait, MD
Member of the VIRTIS Scientific Advisory Board

Dr. Naum Khait was born in 1939 in Odessa region, Ukraine. In 1962 graduated from State Medical Institute in Orenburg, Russia and started his medical practice as a neurologist in city of Kurgan. From 1964 till 1976 worked as neurologist and sexopathologist in Tyumen regional hospital, Siberia. From 1976 till 2003 had clinical practice as neurologist, psychiatrist and sexopathologist in city of Obninsk. Since 1994 worked as Chief of the Department of Clinical Psychology in Obninsk Institute of Nuclear Energy. Is an author of 26 publications and 2 monographs. In 1987 worked for 35 days in a medical team of leading experts directed by the Ministry of Emergencies and Disasters in Russia. For his outstanding effort, Dr. Khait was awarded the Medal for Chernobyl Victims Rescue by the last head of state of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. Since 2003 resides in Sacramento, CA. Dr. Khait lives with his wife and has two sons and a daughter.



Arash Yazdani, MD,
HIM Operations Manager

Dr. Yazdani embodies the globalism of his generation: he was born in Iran, raised in India and United States, educated in California, and is a graduate of Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Bucharest, Romania. Trilingual and familiar with the Balkan, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, Arash's professional interest as a physician focuses on epidemiology of health issues in traumatized Middle Eastern immigrant communities and on culturally appropriate interventions meant to reduce disparities in the provision of health care services. Arash is currently pursuing a master's degree in Health Informatics at UC Davis.



Bogdan Alexandrescu,
VIRTIS IT Director

Born and raised at the dawn of the Internet, Bogdan is a proud representative of the new wave of technology entrepreneurs in their 20s. Originally from Bucharest, Romania, Bogdan started to feel drawn to the IT field since he was in middle school, so by the time he reached high school his focus had become clear. The emphasis became clearer when he went to the Academy of Economic Studies, in Bucharest, where he received his Bachelor's Degree in Cybernetics, Statistics and Computer Science (2008).

During his years in college, Bogdan also discovered his passion for business and volunteering, so he became one of the leaders of two notable student organizations: Business Club ( and Volunteers for Ideas and Projects ( Here he organized and implemented, along with his teams, projects like: Business School, Marketing School, Investment School, International Entrepreneurship Week 2007, Student of the Year, Sibiu Business Summer School 2008 and a project with the Romanian Royal House (Romania. A 30 Years Vision).

After college, having accumulated both project management and work experience, Bogdan founded and developed two businesses, a web development company and a franchise consultancy company, at only 24 years of age. He also acquired a lot of professional knowledge about European funded projects while working on over 100 of them. Moreover, he built a start-up called Live Feedback which he came to the USA to pitch to VCs and investment funds. Having reached Silicon Valley, Bogdan realized that this was the place where he could best put to use his IT, planning, financial and business skills and use his knowledge and experience on how to build and grow a sustainable business, while sharing his expertise with those who sought advice.

His current affiliations include Rotaract Bucharest (, part of Rotary International and American Mensa ( He is fluent in English, Italian and Romanian and also has basic knowledge of Spanish and French.



Shaida Samimi,
Treasurer, Member of the Board of Directors

Shaida is originally from Kabul, Afghanistan. Due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the early 80’s she was forced along with herentire family to flee to the US. Shaida immigrated at the age of five to the US not speaking a single word of English. She started first grade, continued High School and College in the US. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science Business Administration Degree with an emphasis in Project Management.

She is also a Certified Paralegal and Licensed Pharmacy Technician in the State of California. She is currently working as a Business System Analyst/Project Manager at a local bank in the Sacramento Area.

She is an active board member for Virtis and takes care of all treasurer responsibilities for Virtis. Being one of the first Afghan family immigrant’s in California, Shaida and her family went through many obstacles to adapt to new society, life and learning a new language. It is a result of her upbringing that makes her want to give back to the immigrant communities. She remembers her hardships and experiences she went through growing up in the US and strives passionately to use her experiences in the most positive way towards new immigrant families who have arrived to the US.

Shaida is very driven when it comes to helping immigrants, women in need and any other philanthropic work in her local community. Shaida has actively been involved with the flood of Afghan refugees that have migrated to the Northern California in the last 3-4 years. She enjoys conducting classes to help and support these individuals transition into their new lives, going to school, adapting to society and working in the US. She takes priority in planning psycho-social classes and conducting them along with peers to assist Afghan women refugees living in the Sacramento Areas. She takes pride in being involved in the Afghan Community, any assistance she can road map for new immigrants to make their transitions easy brings her great joy.



Mizgon Zahir Darby, MS,
VIRTIS Director, Media & Communication

Mizgon is driven by her passion to document the stories and bring to surface the voices and perspectives of underrepresented communities in the United States. As a journalist, Mizgon mainly covers a broad range of issues that are considered taboo in the Afghan Culture. At age 18, with encouragement and guidance from fellow writers and editors and financial support from Pacific News Service, Mizgon launched the first inter-generational Afghan American magazine entitled Afghan Journal. Immediately after the events of 9/11 Afghan Journal became the only publication that voiced the otherwise censored voices of Afghans living in diaspora. In October 2009, Mizgon was the first Afghan American to obtain her M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is currently working on a Global Innovators MBA from California State University East Bay. Mizgon is the founder of ThinkJar Consulting, a marketing and communications consulting firm. She works with both large corporations and non-profit organizations developing programs and projects, grant writing, business development and creating marketing, branding and communication plans. She is also the Program Manager for the Afghan Coalition Afghan Mental Health Project funded by Proposition 63, Alameda County BHCS and the recipient of the 2011 Mental Health Excellence Award from the Alameda County Supervisors Office and Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services. Other recent projects include collecting stories of older generation Afghan immigrant women and consulting on research with Professors at California State University East Bay on the lives of second generation Afghan Americans.



Luna Shad, Director, VIRTIS Films

Luna Shad is an Iranian-French documentary filmmaker, video journalist, television personality, and actress.  Born in the ancient city of Persia and Safavid capital, Isfahan, Luna Shad immigrated at the age of 12 to Paris, France, where she attended high school at Lycée Honore de Balzac and university earning a BA degree in Intercultural Management. She received training in acting from Yves Pignot, the director of L’Ecole Superieure d’Art Dramatique de la Ville de Paris who has also been coaching actors like Luc Besson’s Star Jean Reno (Léon, Da Vinci Code).  Moving to United States, Luna Shad reported on arts and culture for Voice of America's (VOA) Persian Service for six years as the lead anchor for Cultural Magazine Shabahang followed by millions of viewers worldwide. Luna also acted in "Sleepers," a video installation by internationally renowned Director, Abbas Kiarostami, and "The Scream of Ants," a film by acclaimed director Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

"Keys to My Home" is Luna Shad's first documentary about the lives of Iranian journalists in Turkey, on their way to resettlement.  Since June 2009, at least 150 Iranian journalists have fled Iran. Half of them are under the age of 35. Most of them crossed over the Turkish or Iraqi borders, facing tremendous hardships. Dozens have permanently resettled in Western countries, most having been granted political asylum. The film follows one of them, Delbar Tavakoli, through her relocation experience to France. Delbar's fears, worries, and hopes shape the landscape of the film.  Keys to My Home has been presented this year at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Columbia University, and will also be presented at UC Davis International Education Week in November. Ms. Shad’s film has been selected by the November 2012 Helsinki Refugee Film Festival and the Director will present the movie in person in Finland under the aegis of the Veteran, Refugee, and Immigrant Trauma Institute of Sacramento (VIRTIS).

Ms. Shad will be directing the development of VIRTIS Films Department. Under Director Shad’s leadership VIRTIS is launching an initiative to produce documentaries of refugees in California and all over the world; this project is called Odysseus, after the name of the Trojan War hero, an archetype of the refugee’s transformational journey of darkness, pain, awakening, triumph, and light.



Yuan Liu, J.D., Legal Director

Yuan was born in China, after finished her J.D. degree in China, she got her Master degree from University of California, Davis School of Law. She has been a part of Greenpeace and joined International Voluntary HQ after moving to the U.S. in 2012. She is specializing in commercial law, and because she has a keen interest in helping people, she pays a lot of attention to medical law.
Yuan has been working for around three years since she was an undergraduate student in 2009. As part of working experience, she used to work as a legal assistant for Standard Chartered Bank and also a well-known education organization—New Oriental Organization in China, and she is also the director of the legal department for an international Internet ( company. These broad experiences did not only enrich her professional experience, but also provided her more insight meaning of life.


Jeff Erskine, Esq. – Attorney at Law

Jeff recently returned from a legal fellowship in India where he and his wife fought human trafficking with International Justice Mission. He passed the California Bar on his first try after finishing his Juris Doctor degree at Western State University in Orange County, California. He studied different international law courses in both Jerusalem, Israel and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Prior to his legal career, Jeff worked for an advertising agency in Los Angeles. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Communication and Mass Media from the University of New York in Prague, Czech Republic, and a Master's Degree in Marketing Communication from the University of Canberra, Australia. Jeff enjoys studying foreign laws and customs, as well as immersing himself into foreign cultures.




Copyright © 2010 VIRTIS All Rights Reserved