Tomorrow. The Big Day. The day I finally get my article published in the Guardian.
It’s strange. It feels like this day has taken so long to arrive, whilst also taking no time at all.
I entered the competition on a complete whim. I had never heard of it before, and discovered it via a link on Facebook. Figuring I had nothing to lose (what a good decision that was), with about 5 days until the deadline, I decided to take a break from writing university essays about failed states and organ donations, researched sexual violence in the DRC, and submitted my application.
I remember, so clearly, the day that the longlist was announced. I had been obsessively checking the competition’s Twitter page, refreshing it every 5 minutes. The suspense was dreadful. My article was one of the last to be listed, and my heart grew heavier and heavier as I scrolled through the titles, mine nowhere to be seen. And suddenly, as if by magic, there it was. I absolutely couldn’t believe it. I must have sat there for a full minute just staring at it. I was so happy. I kept revisiting the website just to check that it was still there, almost afraid that it would disappear if I didn’t.
Finding out that I had made the shortlist was even more of a surprise. I was in a restaurant with a close friend when I got the call. After I hung up, I just sat there laughing, crying, disbelieving. It was a similar scenario when I asked my boyfriend to read the email which told me that I would be travelling to Zambia with UNICEF. I couldn’t bare to look myself. I don’t even want to think about how many times I uttered: “I just can’t believe it! I just can’t!”
I never fully appreciated how much hard work goes into a piece of journalism, especially when you travel overseas to get the story. The meticulous planning, the interviews, the tiredness of the long days, the negotiations with the (fussy, but hilarious) photographer, the many hours of transcribing, the statistical research, the pulling-your-hair-out when the dreaded writer’s block appears, the proof-reading – again and again – until you know your story almost word for word.
And, tomorrow, all those months of hard work will be worth it.
To say that it was a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ is an understatement. All of the amazing aspects of this competiton – the trip, the publication, the awards ceremony – were wonderful. But, even more than that, it gave me self-confidence and self-worth. I never saw myself as a writer before this competition. I always doubted my own opinions. I never thought I was good enough, as I was just a very ‘average’ student, never really excelling at anything. Before I started my degree two years ago, I had no knowledge about international development, just a very strong desire to learn about global poverty and injustice.
If you would have told me three years ago that I would have been a finalist in this competition, I would never have believed it. Never in a million years. But, here I am.
Standing on the stage at the ceremony was such an emotional experience. I had to keep telling myself to ‘hold it together’ and not start blubbering whilst the photographer snapped our pictures. I’d never found myself in such a situation before – it was overwhelming. I thought that I might feel a bit sad about not winning overall. But I actually don’t at all. It went to such a deserving winner, and dear friend, and I burst into happy tears when they called her name. She is going to go far!
For me, just having such accomplished writers praising my articles, telling me that they loved my blog posts, or even stating that I was a good ‘tweeter’ is more than enough! To have your work appreciated, especially when you are so inexperienced and unsure of yourself, is such an indescribable feeling. I am so honoured to have been chosen to tell the stories of my interviewees, all of whom inspired me in so many ways. I’m really excited now to see what the future holds and, as ever, I am so grateful to the Guardian, UNICEF and Barclays for such an opportunity.