A bit too close to home

As you know, IWMF strives to keep women journalists safe. Part of their generous fellowships include a hostile environment training (HEFTA), which prepares you for worst case scenarios while reporting.

On February 3, 2018, I was kidnapped by IWMF’s professional (and very realistic) team. It felt like an eternity, it barely lasted over two hours.

I knew it would be over at any moment, yet this scenario truly got to me.

I was born and raised in Colombia, and during the 90s and early 2000s it was the kidnapping capital of the world.  

Like many other Colombians, my family was one of the ones affected by this crime.

To me, kidnapping is one of the most inhumane things humans can do to each other. The uncertainty of not knowing how and where the people closest to your heart are: Are they cold? Are they eating? Are they hopeful? Are they still alive…?

My family and I are among the lucky few to enjoy having our loved ones back with us, but many are still waiting as years go by.

While the situation in Colombia has improved, kidnappings keep happening.

In 2016 I reported on this issue. I spent some time with the family of Rosalba Ariza, a school teacher who was kidnapped in 2016 by men wearing uniforms of Colombia’s second largest guerrillas, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Her son, Alvaro, had to negotiate her release. He said the hardest thing was to treat his own mother like a piece of merchandise. They paid the ransom, but Rosalba was not returned.

I still keep in touch with Alvaro, and like him, I keep waiting on some good news.

Back with IWMF in Mexico, I knew the kidnappers were our cooks, our drivers and our trainers, still, it was hard for me to take it lightly.

I am incredibly thankful to the IWMF Adelante fellowship for providing me with a safe space and controlled environment in which I could to confront this fear. This exercise put my life decisions into perspective, it made my past tremble, and it allowed me to crash just to be picked up again on the other side.

An altar to Rosalba Ariza who was kidnapped by men wearing The National Liberation Army’s identifying armbands on Nov. 1, 2016, can be seen at they family’s friend’s home. Cauca, Colombia. Nov. 18, 2016. © Erika Piñeros

– Erika Piñeros