Tag Archives: Zambia

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

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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