``But then she realised: it wasn’t a drill. This was for real. All she could think of at that moment was the training course.``
CSD training session at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
Late April, Sidi provided a training session Dealing with Aggression at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative as part of a two-week course where students and NGO staff are prepared for all sorts of situations that can happen during wars, natural disasters and refugee crises.
Sidi Bensalah works as a trainer and actor at Centre for Safety and Development.
AK-47 to the head
‘Ann was one of the trainees on our course. She was extremely critical. When I told the participants they had to keep calm in an emergency, she said: “Don’t worry, Sidi: things will be fine.” After the course, I met her at the airport and I jokingly repeated: “Hey, Ann, don’t forget to stay calm and keep an eye on your breathing.” She said: “Sidi, really, I’m sure it’ll all be fine.”
‘We received an email from her a few weeks later. She had been taken hostage for about four hours. She was on her stomach with an AK-47 pointed at her head and all she could think was: “When will Sidi finally stop the drill? He’ll come in at any moment, smile and shake my hand.” But then she realised: it wasn’t a drill. This was for real. All she could think of at that moment was the training course: “Keep breathing, keep breathing.” That’s what kept her safe in the end and so she was writing to thank us: “Thanks to the course, everything went OK. You gave me something that saved my life.” And that is precisely why I’m working as a security trainer.
Simulations are close to reality
‘The training I give is part of a two-week course. It covers multiple scenario’s. Centre for Safety and Development uses a lot of simulations: they are a major component of the training sessions. By drawing on my experience, but also on my background as someone from North Africa who speaks French and Arabic, I can add an extra dimension to the training. That also explains why our simulations are so close to reality for many NGOs, particularly those who work in African countries.
Getting home safe
‘The aim of the training session is “getting home safe”. Everything is geared to that objective. We sometimes get thank-you messages from participants like Ann, who used what she had learnt at the course to get home safe. That’s fantastic feedback. My personal motivation is that I want to make sure that my training helps to people get back home in one piece.
‘We started the week with a “checkpoint simulation”, the participants drive by car to the camp where they are to spend the entire week. I wait for them at a checkpoint and inspect their passports, which are fake. I really grill them, which makes things realistic. I can tell straightaway if someone isn’t telling me the truth. So the main message during this part of the training is “don’t lie”. That will only complicate things even more.
‘The training also includes the simulations of more aggressive situations. I am involved both as a trainer and an actor, which allows me to make people aware of how they behave. The main message is still “stay calm” but, once again, it’s important not to lie. The aggressor might start thinking: “Can this person be trusted. Is he or she a spy?” It’s about being aware of the dangers. Think beforehand about what you do. For example, don’t take valuable things with you, take different routes, and so on.
Training again at Harvard
‘I am very much involved with the nuts and bolts of saving lives with the guidance I pass on during my training. That’s what makes my work so valuable for me. The cooperation with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative first started when we provided a Dealing with Aggression module a few years ago. The organisation was very enthusiastic about CSD’s professional, organised and people-oriented approach. They immediately invited us again the following year because they thought the Academy wouldn’t be complete otherwise. Obviously, that was a huge compliment. At CSD, we are immensely proud to be a fixed part of the two week course at Harvard Humanitarian Initiative for the fifth year in a row.’
*Ann is a fictitious name.