I once worked for an organization where I trained women journalists around the world. I worked there for many years as a regional editor, where I traveled within the U.S., to Guatemala, Haiti and throughout Mexico, often by myself. During my many years there, many of my colleagues were provided a HEFAT training. But, I was never afforded this vital and life-changing training, until last month.
HEFAT, the Hostile Environment and First Aid Training, is designed to prepare civilians, such as journalists, mentally and physically to work in high-risk environments. The training helps journalists learn skills that the military has been employing in volatile regions around the world to mitigate risk, assess danger and employ first aid to save their own life or the lives of others.
I asked my now former employer when I was going to be provided the HEFAT training. It was in the lead-up to my trip to Haiti, where the organization acknowledged I was likely to face hostility because I was an American journalist. And yet, my employer told me I didn’t need the training, because, as she put it in so many words, I was a Latina who grew up in an urban, low-income neighborhood in the East Bay Area. So, she continued with a few chuckles, since my “ghetto” self already knew how to keep myself alive growing up, Haiti would be a walk in the park.
That offensive moment affected me. I had learned from so many people just how vital the HEFAT training is for journalists around the world because our world is becoming increasingly hostile and lethal towards members of the media.
There has been a growing animosity towards journalists around the world that is openly encouraged by political leaders, according to the 2018 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. In 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists documented a record number of journalists behind bars, and a 50 percent increase in murders of journalists from 2016. Many watchdog organizations continue to suggest that the number of journalists killed around the world is likely to increase.
But this year, I was finally provided the HEFAT training after being awarded a fellowship with the International Women’s Media Foundation. And just as I had suspected, it was absolutely life-changing and vital.
During this four-day course, I learned and experienced skills and situations that have forever changed the way I see myself and my role in global media. You may think you know yourself fairly well, but HEFAT will really force you to a moment of reckoning with your instincts and abilities.
I am forever grateful for being taught how to get myself out of zip ties and duct tape, educated on how to mitigate risk when staying in hotels, when and how to apply a tourniquet, how to best evade the line of fire, female-focused self defense techniques and how to keep myself alive if ever kidnapped. I loved waking up every morning during the HEFAT training knowing I would spend hours in the classroom empowered to learn and employ first aid, and then spending hours being encouraged to punch and kick like hell, and being empowered to escape a chokeholds. The kidnapping simulation taught me so much in how I react to high-stress situations. I have never felt so mentally and physically capable, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Women everywhere, and definitely journalists, unfortunately experience physical threats to their lives every day. The IWMF’s HEFAT training, designed with women in mind, was essential for me and the eleven other women who were awarded the Adelante fellowship, in recognizing that self defense goes beyond physical strength, and rather relies on knowledge and training. With that in mind, I have returned home armed with a wealth of information that I am eager to share with all the women in my life. I plan to show them all how to get an attacker off of them, how to kick and punch effectively, and so much more.
It is now incredibly clear to me that HEFAT is absolutely necessary for journalists, and should be a required investment for all organizations deploying their employees around the world. I applaud any organization that provides this training to their journalists, and especially applaud organizations like the IWMF who work to provide this to women around the world.
The world is becoming more dangerous for journalists. But we all chose this career knowing that. Our pursuit of truth and justice has always trumped the risks. But, that does not mean we can’t be prepared.
Natalia Aldana, Adelante Fellow, 2019 Honduras.