Category Archives: Journocomp

My #Journocomp Experience

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.

Waiting to interview Derek, a charming chicken farmer.

Waiting to interview Derek, a charming chicken farmer.

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.

Great memories, encapsulated on an escalator.

Great memories, encapsulated on an escalator.

My boyfriend, and persistent proof-reader.

My boyfriend, and persistent proof-reader.

Finally published!

Finally published!

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.

My heart is happy,

My heart is happy,


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A Boy called Desire: living without a financial safety net

As soon as I met Desire, seventeen, I took an instant liking to him.

Sitting across from me in his roadside hut, located in the village of Chongwe, his account spoke of experience beyond his years.  Orphaned at the age of seven, he was forced to grow up quickly, and bears a fierce charisma that demonstrates an essential strength of character.


Desire lived with his uncle for several years following his parents’ deaths. However, when his uncle started struggling financially to support him, he decided it would be best to move in with his elderly grandfather, who is approaching full blindness and now relies heavily on Desire for help.

In Zambia, where the youth population is booming, the OECD predicts that less than half of them are in stable, full-time employment. In fact, many of the youths that we interviewed spoke to us about doing ‘piecework’ – irregular and often challenging physical tasks, for a small stipend at the end of the day.

In order to pay for his schooling and food, Desire will frequently ask for piecework around his village. His jobs have included cutting roses, chopping trees and clearing yards. When possible, he supplements this income by selling chickens for 1 kwacha (roughly 12p) as well as bananas and mangoes by the side of the road.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to my own small struggle to find work in the UK. I realised how fortunate we are to have a welfare state and the provision of a job seekers allowance, when Zambia has no such safety net. I remember, aged 19, the feelings of hopelessness and frustration that arose from waiting in line at job centre. But this pales in comparison to Desire, who often wakes up very uncertain about whether he will have the opportunity to earn any money that day.

He says: “When I start a job, I’ll wake up early in the morning … and I’ll know what I’m doing every day … With piecework, I don’t know the type of job I’m going to do … [but] no matter how hard that work is, you do it, because you need that money.”

Desire’s most arduous task was weeding during the rainy season. The fields are very long, and he is awarded 1 kwacha for each line he completes. Even after a full day of tireless work, Desire might only be able to afford some cooking oil and rape – a bitter, leafy vegetable.

Despite the obvious challenges, Desire is an extremely resourceful and business savvy young man, and a neat row of colourful ties strung across the wall behind him clearly display his organised nature. His training with Building Young Futures has only enhanced this characteristic. He makes a huge effort to ensure that he saves whatever little money he has – so that he and his grandfather are never without food.  

He is now making plans to expand his supply of chickens and build a solid coop for them. He reassures me, “In one year I can do something which is great.”


Desire’s Home

* This blog was written especially for the Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition.

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Third Vlog – A Dress from Isabel

Planning to wear this to the Guardian’s award ceremony in November! (Excuse
the pink shirt underneath!)

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August 25, 2013 · 10:45 am

Second Vlog – After interviewing Edward

Taken on day 4 of trip – I still need to get used to being filmed for these things! 🙂

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August 25, 2013 · 10:32 am

My first ever vlog!

Just explaining what we were doing that day! This was filmed in Katembula village by Kate Wills of UNICEF UK 🙂


August 22, 2013 · 9:09 pm

“How to Sell with Success”


Today I had the pleasure of observing a Building Young Futures training session. This event, run in partnership with UNICEF and Barclays, will serve as a primary focus of my upcoming article.

After a short drive, we arrived in the charming little village of Katembula. The training session, which aims to foster business and entrepreneurship skills in the unemployed youth of Zambia, was being held at the local Youth Resource Centre.

As we walked in to observe, 36 pairs of eyes fell upon us, but once we had introduced ourselves and stated why we were there, we quickly managed to fade into the background.

The trainer addressing the youths was a charismatic and bubbly woman, and it was clear that she was able to engage well with her students. The room was large and airy, particularly cool compared to the harsh sun outside, with a deep copper-coloured floor and pale yellow walls – one of which boasted a dusty, unused chalkboard. The windows were draped with light brown curtains and various hand-made posters adorned the walls. The posters included things like a map of businesses in the village, the names of their modules and, of course, the famous ground rules:


The session was taught mainly in Bemba, a common language that all of the students could understand, as they came from many different tribes. Luckily I had Annie, of UNICEF Zambia, to translate for me.

A couple of the students were performing a role play to demonstrate good business practice verses bad business practice. In the front of the room was a wooden table featuring an array of groceries – including juice, cooking oil, sugar, eggs, oranges, body lotion and a ball of string.

The role plays went a little something like this:

Scenario 1

Customer wants to buy something, but doesn’t have enough money. Employee refuses – aware that he allows too many people to buy on credit and his boss will be angry.

Customer: “Please just give to me. My children are hungry and crying at home.”

In the end, employee relents and allows the customer to take some juice, oranges and eggs. Customer assures that she will pay next week. Boss returns and is very cross with employee. He tells him that he will increase his salary next month, instead of this month as promised, because he is not making as much profit as he should be. This causes a huge argument between them and they both storm out.

Scenario 2

Boss is worried that the business is not doing very well as she is often away in Tanzania to buy new products. She employs a new person and tells her to put all the money into the business bank account. She will teach employee about stock-taking when she gets back.

Customer: “How much for eggs, cooking oil and oranges?”
Employee: “Eggs 20 kwacha, oranges 6 kwacha, cooking oil 2 kwacha.”

Customer asks to pay on credit but employee refuses, stating that it is not allowed. Customer pays, but does not buy the oranges. The boss returns. They decide to go to the bank together to deposit the money. The boss tells employee that she is saving up to buy a guesthouse. They both walk out.

The trainer then asked the students what were the main differences between the two businesses. Hands shot up all around the room. Some of the responses were:

– “The first business was giving out too much on credit”.
– “The first business never banked their money, and the boss was always coming to spend what had been earned.”
– “The first business owner didn’t know what he was doing and where his business was going.”
– “The increment in salary never came and the worker became demoralised and lost interest in the business.”
– “The owner [of the first business] did not separate his business money and his personal money.”
– “The second business did not give things on credit.”
– “The second took their money to the bank.”
– “The employee found from their customers what was demanded of the business.”
– “The boss was looking forward to see what else they could do.”
– “The first business had rules set from the beginning.”

Once the responses had been discussed, and it was clear to the students why the second business was clearly more successful than the first, the trainer asked for real life examples. One student raised his hand and said that he once owned a shop, but felt sorry for people who could not afford to pay and often gave things out on credit, which eventually caused his business to fail. Another student said that he too owned a shop, but was always tempted to take the profit for personal use, and thus his business also failed.

What I found fascinating was how totally engaged and enthusiastic the youths were about the session. The trainers were really skilled in making it interesting, fun and, most importantly, relevant to them. The advice given was extremely valuable as many had witnessed their previous small businesses fail, perhaps without fully considering why. The advice will definitely be useful in their futures as young entrepreneurs.

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August 21, 2013 · 10:45 pm

Experiences of a First Time Journalist

Welcome from Zambia! I can honestly say that, so far, this has been the experience of a lifetime. I have learnt so much about UNICEF and Barclays and the great work they are doing out here and have met some really fantastic, interesting and colourful people.

It took a bit of deliberation over a plate of pasta to decide what my first blog post should be about, but this topic seemed particularly fitting as I knew very little about journalism before entering this competition.   

Firstly, I have learnt to be thankful for dictaphones! It is so difficult to listen to somebody talk and write their answers at the same time, so I really applaud anyone who can manage this effortlessly!

I have also discovered that the best bit about interviewing a person is the moment you witness them ‘transform’ during the session. I have witnessed this with quite a few of the interviewees. The start can be rather quiet, and even a little awkward, as I struggle to think of appropriate starting questions and they struggle to think of interesting answers. But, then, there is a ‘lightbulb moment’ when they begin to really open up, the answers start flowing and I can almost see an article about this person forming in my head.

I have noticed that the interviewees tend to relax the most when they are in a familiar and comfortable setting, particularly their homes. This is great for me, as I am able to gain a real insight into what their lives are like as they walk around their rooms and show me their everyday (and prized) possessions.

I find the most difficult thing about being a journalist asking the interviewee personal and emotional questions. It’s challenging to know when it’s appropriate to push the person for an answer and when it’s better to leave them be. Of course, it’s usually the personal details that make for the most interesting stories, but there is a very fine line between what you can and cannot ask somebody.
I’m sure there are many cut-throat journalists out there who will get the information they need at any cost, but I don’t think I am one of them! I’ve started to think about how I would feel being asked that particular question and using that as my guide. Luckily I’ve had a lot of support from Kate, my UNICEF mentor, and I’m sure that knowing the balance is something that will become easier with time. 

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One more sleep.

Sometimes life is about the ability to believe in where you’re going even when you’re not sure what lies ahead – Anon.

And so, tomorrow, I leave for Zambia.

I can already predict that today will pass in a blur of manic packing (I know – I always leave it to the last minute), malaria tablets, printing vital documents, probably misplacing my passport somewhere and then generally stressing out … but all with a very excited flutter in my tummy.

Maybe once I actually land on Zambian soil and conduct my first interview it will hit me that I actually am a finalist in this competition, but maybe not. I still find it hard to believe. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I explain all in the about me section of this blog.

I am so excited to learn more about Building Young Futures, the programme developed in partnership between Barclays and UNICEF, which will be the main focus of my article, offering hope of improved employment prospects to some of the world’s most disadvantaged youths (aged 15-25).

This website explains more about the programme, and also features a lovely video – featuring some of the people that I will most likely be interviewing next week!

I hope to update this blog in the coming days with case studies, pictures and stories of the people I meet, so watch this space!

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August 16, 2013 · 9:23 am