Meet the Fellow: Almudena Toral

Univision videographer Almudena Toral considers her options as IWMF security trainer Jeff Belzil explains how to escape from the trunk of a car in February 2019.

Almudena Toral’s path from her native Madrid to her current home in Miami took her through New York City, where she earned her MA in journalism a the City University of New York (she later taught there) and worked for both the New York Times and Time magazine as a video reporter.

For the past four years, Almudena has been a videographer at Univision, and she currently leads a team of reporters covering non-breaking news. She has carved out a role as a “player-coach,” editing others but also getting out in the field to report her own work.

“It’s unusual,” she said. “You’re usually either in management or reporting. This is a luxury.”

One of the toughest stories Almudena said she’s covered lately is a piece about the effects of U.S. family separation policy on a little girl from the highlands of Guatemala. She was part of a team that followed 6-year-old Adayanci as she was flown back to her parents in Guatemala City after 3½ months of separation in foster care for migrant children in Michigan, and then traveled with the family to their village in the department of San Marcos.

The hardest part of the trip was not staying safe or getting access to sources, said Almudena. It was the emotional punch in the gut she felt from witnessing Adayanci’s trauma.

“We knew she was having difficulty, because she had cut her hair as a protest [while in the U.S.] and she was crying all the time on calls with her family,” recalled Almudena. “But when we went back to the village with them for a few days, we found her staring at the horizon, not responding to anything around her.”

Adayanci’s parents were shocked and bewildered, Almudena said, and her father in particular was burdened by a sense of guilt for having taken his child to the U.S. where she was ripped away from him.

Almudena described how — once Adayanci returned to her classroom in Guatemala — the little girl’s teachers were solicitous, trying to draw her out, and her classmates were animated, hoping to make her laugh or somehow connect with them. But Adayanci seemed numb, disassociated from her surroundings.

As Almudena watched all of this unfold, “I was emotional, I was a mess,” she said. “I was crying while I was filming at the school.”

The International Women’s Media Foundation fellowship has been helpful for Almudena as she thinks ahead to tough assignments in the future, she said. She already knows a lot about the safety protocols the IWMF teaches. What she learned on the fellowship was more subtle: how to attend to her inner experience while reporting a difficult assignment.

“The fellowship has been a good reminder to take better care of myself,” she said.

One other thing: in the event that anyone were to try to kidnap Almudena, she has also been practicing how to escape from the trunk of a car!

Tyche Hendricks, 2019 U.S.-Mexico Border Fellow