Wannabe Hack (officially)

After spending most of the summer working in the restaurant, pulling 7-shift (50+ hour) weeks to cover other people’s holidays, I haven’t had much time to write, in any capacity. I feel like I’ve totally neglected my food blog, through not having any time to try out new places to eat, and then through not having any time to write about it.

I’ve totally neglected this blog too. I’ve written down so many ideas of things to write about but when I finally got round to it, whatever it was didn’t seem topical anymore, like the subject had already run its course and everything worth saying had been said.

Needless to say, my lack of writing and the fact that I was getting no further with job applications left me feeling pretty disheartened, which is why I made the decision back in September to change direction a little bit and embark on a TEFL qualification. I completed the first 20-hour intensive weekend course at the beginning of October, and now I have 100 more hours of online work to complete before I receive my qualification.

Around the same time, I was successful in my application to join the team behind Wannabe Hacks, a fantastic website offering advice, in-depth analysis and comment on important issues, and the opportunity to discuss and debate with like-minded young journalists. Wannabe Hacks was a fantastic resource for me when I was studying and I’m thrilled to be joining the team. Today, I spent several hours brainstorming and researching for post ideas, and spent even longer filming an (embarrassing) introductory video which will appear on the website in the next few weeks. I’m going to see how it turns out before I decide whether or not to link to it here…

All this considered, I’ve cut back on my hours at the restaurant – frugality resumes – so that not only do I have time for all these new things, but that I have the time to do them well.

And luckily, it seems to be a rather exciting time in the journalism world for job opportunities – especially now that summer is well and truly over – so with any luck I’ll have some more good news in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, I will be studying the best ways to teach different English grammar points while also thinking of some exciting multimedia/data projects and articles for Wannabe Hacks. And if you’re a young and/or aspiring journalist reading this and there are things you want to see on the Wannabe Hacks website, let me know and I’ll do my best to make sure we cover it.

New projects

I think it’s about time for an update.

At the time of my last blog post, I was unemployed and miserable. Now, I am employed and trucking on nicely with life – hurrah! After two months of receiving a pitiful Job Seeker’s Allowance, I decided enough was enough and headed out to do another round of the bars and restaurants in my area, handing out CVs. Two days later I had a waitressing job at the Newman Street Tavern in Fitzrovia (and now I have some money to my name).

Inspired by all the amazing food and wine I serve all day, I have since started a blog over on Tumblr called Wine Dine Write – please head on over and check it out. It’s still early days but I have a number of posts in the pipeline, including a review of Mele e Pere in Soho and an account of my first experience in a cutlery-less Eritrean restaurant in Battersea.

Towards the end of May, I entered the Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition with a piece I wrote on women’s land rights in Rwanda. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the short list or the long list (a piece on women’s land rights in Kenya did, however, so clearly my idea was along the right lines!) but I really enjoyed writing the piece and I’m really proud of it. I would like to thank Helen Pankhurst, Lata Narayanaswamy and Vivenie Mugunga for taking the time to talk to me and for sharing their insights – without these amazing women I wouldn’t have had an article at all. I’ve uploaded my article here, should you wish to read it.

I’ve also started interning two days a week at Africa Confidential, a news website and fortnightly newsletter on politics, economics and security issues in Africa. I am really enjoying my placement so far, guided by the insanely knowledgable deputy editor, Andrew Weir.

I’m still looking and applying for more permanent and full-time roles as a reporter or journalist, but I am thankfully in a much happier place than I was a couple of months ago!

The unemployed youth of today

Just over a month ago, I wrote a blog post about the agonising process of applying for jobs. Well, I am still unemployed and what was once agonising is now depressing, de-motivating and completely soul-destroying. To date, I have applied for over 60 jobs – all jobs I am perfectly qualified for and know I would do well. The sun is out and it’s getting warmer but I am still jobless.

Last year, I saw a segment on the news about high depression rates among the unemployed. The reporter visited a young man who had been unemployed and looking for jobs for over a year. His self-confidence was shattered, he hardly left the house and after so many rejections, his motivation to apply for more jobs barely even existed. I am beginning to know exactly how he feels.

I am now receiving Job Seeker’s Allowance – an amazing, life-changing amount of £56.80* a week – but even my advisor can’t help me or tell me to do something I’m not already doing to find a job. I apply for a minimum of seven jobs a week, go to the job centre once a fortnight to sign a piece of paper, and leave feeling weary and deflated.

To make matters worse, there have been so many newspaper articles, and TV and radio programmes in the last few weeks about the difficulties faced by the ‘Unemployed Youth of Today’: about how difficult it is ‘out there in the real world’, about how there are too many people and not enough jobs, and about how, if you just stick at it and keep your head up, something will come along.

They are right, and something will come along, eventually. But as my bank balance dwindles as quickly as my self-confidence and I get closer to having to ask my parents for financial help, all I want to do is scream: “Shut up! You have no idea what it’s like!” at the newspaper/television/radio.

Not to blow my own trumpet, but, I have two degrees, I’ve been doing relevant (unpaid)** internships and work experience placements for three years. I’m bright, competent and switched-on. So why does nobody want to hire me? I recently received feedback on an application for a trainee reporter position at a local London newspaper. The editor I spoke to told me he couldn’t see any reason why I had not made the shortlist – it was simply because they’d had more than 100 applications and he’d had to narrow those down to just five people for the interview stage. Too many people, not enough jobs.

But, I am not going to let this bring me down. I am stepping up my game. I am going to seek out every freelance writing job there is and I’m going to blog more. And if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll do another round of the bars, restaurants and cafés in my area with my CV in search of anything I can do that isn’t sitting in my flat, applying for job after job.

So if you are reading this and you have any suggestions of how I can make my applications stand out or how I can make sure I am one of the five people in one hundred who are asked to interview, if you know of any freelancing work going or if you actually want to hire me, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Thanks for reading :)

* That’s a whole other discussion all-together.

** And so is that one.

Featured image courtesy of George Lane

Job hunt agony

Applying for jobs is an agonising business. I’m not just talking about rejections or the numerous applications that go completely unanswered. It’s the entire process, and the worst part is repeatedly having to evaluate yourself, your skills, your experience and your personality.

Since I started applying for jobs again, my brain has been whirring away with questions and doubts.

  • Am I looking at all the right job websites?
  • When did I last check Gorkana, or Production Base?
  • Do I only apply for the jobs I actually want or should I settle for anything I’m qualified for if it’s good money?
  • What would happen if I just called up Alan Rusbridger and pleaded with him for a job?
  • What do I actually want to do? Do I want to do print or online journalism?
  • If I want to get into broadcast journalism, how do I do that without much experience?
  • If I get my hair cut like Emily Mortimer in The Newsroom will that increase the likelihood of someone offering me a job?
  • Do any of my friends know someone that knows someone that knows someone….
  • Should I just give up and apply to be a holiday rep for the summer? (At least I’d get some sun)
  • When should I call it a night, turn off my laptop and just go to bed?
  • How desperate do I have to be to consider moving back home?

And all of this goes on in my own little bubble, as all my friends are at work, doing useful things and earning money.

I feel like I am a vulnerable caterpillar in a fragile cocoon waiting for someone to call saying: “Hello Katherine, the (extremely well paid) job (with a generous holiday allowance) is yours.”

And I will burst forth, an incredibly grateful butterfly. The sun will shine and spring will finally arrive.*

But that might just be my cabin fever talking.

Either way, I really need a job. And I need it soon.

*It is perhaps a tad big-headed to assume that the recent cold snap and my unemployment are mutually exclusive, but we’ll see.

The day of rest

Sunday. A day of rest.

The sun fades, the sky changes colour. The clouds silhouetted by pinks and oranges. Birds chirp. Insects buzz. Motorbikes hum along the road outside and our neighbours meander home after a day at church. A greeting, a burst of laughter, or a baby’s cry pierces the stillness. The air is fresh and the breeze is cool.

We laze around on cushions on the terrace. All movements and thoughts slow. Lost in a book, music, our own thoughts. No minds wander to the week ahead, the work to be done.

We reminisce about the night before. The more entertaining dance moves and absurd conversations. We doze. We share the occasional thought or observation. We cast our minds to making dinner, thinking about trying to summon the energy to make the short walk to buy food.

And now dusk is upon us and all natural light has gone. But still we remain on the terrace, resting, as we have done all day.

Tanzania, take two

Nairobi airport, 7am, after an overnight flight but little sleep.

Squinting through tired eyes at the departures board, I realise – with a mild sense of panic – that my flight is the only one without a departure gate listed next to it. Cancelled. No reason given.

Panic levels increasing, I’m told the next flight to Mwanza wouldn’t be until tomorrow. Tomorrow! The only thing running through my mind is that I do not have the wherewithall to spend the night in Nairobi by myself.

Luckily, I’m put on another flight, leaving in an hour or so, to Kilimanjaro. From there, I ‘should’ be able to get another flight to Mwanza. I’m assured that my hold bag will follow me to Kilimanjaro, and then again to Mwanza. I want to believe this, I really do, but my sleep-deprived self does not trust in the unlikely so easily.

But if you are ever re-routed through Kilimanjaro, do not fear. It is possibly the most beautiful airport in the world. Like some luxurious beach-side hut; wooden decking and courtyard cafés, brightly-coloured cushions and trees growing through the roof. Flying in, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro peaks majestically through the clouds. (And my hold bag did follow me all the way.)

I’ve been back in Buswelu for about ten days now. Despite some big changes since my last visit six months ago, it feels like I never left. It’s incredible how much difference a little rain can make. Luscious green plants and trees are everywhere you look and the corn plants tower over six feet. It makes the place seem more prosperous, healthy and full of life.

We are enjoying trying the little cafés that seemed to have cropped up around the village since last time. We’re making a habit out of sampling each one on our walk back from site at lunchtime. At 35 degrees, we’re usually gasping for a cold soda in one of the cafés.

Tanzania

When I tell people that I’m going to Tanzania, the usual response is something along the lines of: “Oh, but it’s alright there, isn’t it?”, hinting to the fact that it hasn’t endured as many natural disasters or drawn-out conflicts as other African nations.

This is partially true. Since independence in 1964 – when Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form one country – Tanzania has faired rather well and avoided many of the catastrophes that have plagued its neighbours. This can be partially attributed to Tanzania’s first President, Jules Nyerere.

President Nyerere based his social and development policies on the concept of Ujamaa, a KiSwahili word meaning extended family or family-hood. It is most commonly distinguished by the notion that a person becomes a person through the people or the community. Nyerere emphasised the need for an African model of development in his blueprint, the 1967 Arusha Declaration – today known as Tanzania’s most prominent declaration of African socialism.

“It is stupid to rely on money as the major instrument of development when we know only too well that our country is poor. It is equally stupid, indeed it is even more stupid, for us to imagine that we shall rid ourselves of our poverty through financial assistance rather than our own financial resources… Firstly, we shall not get the money. There is no country in the world which is prepared to give us gifts or loans, or establish industries, to the extent that we would be able to achieve all our development targets… And even if all the prosperous nations were willing to help the needy countries, the assistance would still not suffice.”

Nyerere was a popular president and his leadership attracted worldwide respect for his consistent emphasis on ethical principles as the basis of practical policies. And Tanzania made great strides in vital areas of social development under his governance:

  • Infant mortality decreased from 138 per 1000 live births in 1965, to 110 in 1985
  • Life expectancy at birth rose from 37 in 1960 to 52 in 1984
  • Primary school enrolment was raised from 25% in 1960 to 72% in 1985, despite the rapidly increasing population
  • Adult literacy rose from 17% in 1960 to 63% by 1975, and continued to rise.

But like all political policies, Ujamaa was not perfect and cracks began to form. The oil crisis of the 1970s, the collapse of export commodity prices and the onset of war with Uganda in 1978 to overcome dictator Idi Amin all starved Tanzania of valuable resources, leading to two consecutive droughts.  By 1985, after failing to lift Tanzania out of its poor economic state, President Nyerere resigned voluntarily.

And today, while Tanzania may seem peaceful, luscious and bountiful, social and economic figures identify a nation in desperate need of development and growth. According to the UN:

  • Life expectancy average 58.25 years
  • There are 11 hospital beds per 10,000 people
  • 82.4% of the population live on less than a dollar a day
  • At the last count in 2002, there were an estimated 822 physicians across the entire country. As of 2009, there are 43.7 million people living in Tanzania. That’s roughly one doctor to over 53,000 people, give or take.

Fortunately, Tanzania is one of those countries that completely captures your heart and there are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of organisations and social entrepreneurs working tirelessly to turn these figures around.

Forever Angels Baby Home is located in Bwiru, near Mwanza airport on the outskirts of the city. It was set up by British ex-pat, Amy Hathaway, and provides a loving and safe home for children under the age of five who were abandoned or whose parents cannot look after them. Forever Angels aims to reunite the children with their parents or close relatives or find suitable adoptive families.

The Mwanza Rural Housing Programme (MRHP) trains people from all over the region to make high-quality bricks out of agricultural residues, such as rice husks. These bricks are then used to built sturdy, permanent homes in an area where most families must re-build their houses of mud and sticks every year. After the initial training and support given by MRHP, most brick-makers go on to establish their own independent brick-making enterprises.

And lastly, Tanzaid, established by Victoria Randell, manages Kuleana Street Children Centre, a transitional home for children coming off the streets. The centre has a team of social workers providing regular counselling to each child before they return to their communities. Children are given the time and care to help them deal with traumatic experiences, talk about their family situations and think about their future. Life skills sessions are also provided covering subjects such as rights, responsibilities, behaviour, choices, hygiene, future options, drugs, sexual health and HIV awareness.

When I visit Tanzania in January, as well as spending time with the amazing kids at Upendo Children’s Home, I’m hoping to go out and visit these amazing projects and organisations, and others like them. If my internet connection holds out, I’ll report it all back here. Stay tuned.

The great blog avoider

Hi. My name is Katherine and I’m a blog-avoider. It’s been three months since my last blog post.

In the last three months, there have been times when everything has been happening all at once and I’ve hardly had a minute to pause, and there have been other times where nothing has been happening and I have had plenty of time to sit, contemplate and mull things over.

Either way, none of it has seemed worth writing about.

But this is just not good enough. (Even my parents have said those immortal words: “You need to start writing again!”)

But, quality is better than quantity, right? Right?!

The good news is that my horrendous blog-avoidance will be a thing of the past in a few short weeks. In January, I’m travelling back to Mwanza, Tanzania. Alongside some volunteering, I’m hoping to meet with some NGOs, social entrepreneurs and pioneering business people – particularly within the fields of development and global health. My journalist brain has already kicked in and I’ve been brainstorming some story ideas to get excited about.

And, depending on the access I’ll have to the Internet, I’ll be posting all my stories right here.

Development data challenge

The Development Data Challenge is a two-day event organised by the International Aid Transparency Initiative, an organisation which strives for global development data to be made public, as quickly and as easily as possible. In recent years, more and more of this development data has been made available, so the idea of the weekend was to interrogate it to answer questions about global development, and then present findings in interesting ways.

I’m not an international development expert, nor can I do fancy things with HTML or coding, but I have a decent interest in both areas so I thought I might as well go along (the event was free!) and if anything, it would be a fantastic opportunity to network.

In the weeks leading up to the event, people submitted questions they wanted to be answered. These ranged from; “What is the average salary of an ex-pat aid worker compared to that of a local aid worker?” and “How much aid money is lost in admin processes?” to “How reliable is this data?” There were about 70 questions in total so our first task was to whittle these down to a select the most interesting, and then choose the ones we thought we could tackle in groups, with the data we knew (or other people knew) were available.

During the discussion, one attendee brought up the question of the extent of media influence on aid donations after natural disasters. Does more news coverage increase donations? Or does the fact that more people are donating money increase news coverage? Or are other factors involved, such as the number of people affected by the disaster?

I touched on this age-old question during my MA programme, and I know studies have been done to assess the quantity and quality of press coverage of natural disasters. There is even a theory about it. But how does this affect aid donations? And what about broadcast news? Those are questions I wanted to answer.

It took my group (which grew steadily across the weekend) quite a while to work out just how we were going to answer this question, where we were going to find the information, and how we were going to include everything we wanted to. In the end, we decided to cover five big natural disasters of the last ten years: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2010 Pakistan floods, the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and the 2011 East Africa drought.

Then came the tricky part; finding comparable data on the amount of aid donations for each disaster and working out the total number of people affected. This took a huge chunk of our time and I can’t even remember the processes we went through, but eventually, we found the financial data through the Financial Tracking Service and relied on official reports from aid organisations, such as the Red Cross, for the total number of people affected.

For me, this exercise confirmed some things while disproving others. I thought that the more a natural disaster was televised, the more money would be donated – regardless of the number of people affected. The Pakistan Floods case study proved this, but the Japanese earthquake and tsunami did not. (Then again, the Japanese government was telling people not to give them any money.)

And there are so many other factors that contribute to why media organisations cover what they do – see the Galtung & Ruge theory – and why people donate to some causes and not to others – see Susan D. Moeller.

Most importantly, I think my group really started something that groups at future hack days can continue with. I’m glad we had something to show for our hard work (at around 3pm on Sunday when we were still trying to find financial data, it looked like we might not have anything to present!) and as I thought, I had many interesting conversations and met some fascinating people.

I miss Tanzania

It’s been a long time since I last wrote a blog post.

After my exams, I did a two-week work placement at the Kentish Express, then I sat my final two NCTJ exams. Straight after that I went to Tanzania for a month to volunteer. I’ve been a little busy.

I’ve been back in the UK for over a week and I think the real reason I haven’t written about my time in Tanzania is because I’m struggling to describe just how amazing it was.

I miss it. I miss the baking sunshine and refreshing light breezes. I miss lying in the garden at night and staring up at all the stars. I miss sleeping under a mosquito net, wearing long-sleeved pyjamas and socks to bed and still waking up with bites. I miss cold showers. I miss going to bed to the sounds of dogs howling and being woken up at 6am by the cockerel in the garden. I miss getting hot and sweaty on crowded dala-dalas and bombing down dirt-track roads on the back of a piki-piki. I miss the blaring music from Corner Bar. I miss walking to Buswelu Corner to buy fresh fruit and vegetables each day and waving to Christina in her shop. I miss Stoney Tangawizi. I miss all the children and the sounds of them running into the house at 4.30pm every day. I miss Mariya and the way she won’t let you see her work or drawings until she’s completely finished. I miss Mussa and Masalu and their comedy double act. I miss Edward and how he can’t help hand-balling during football games. I miss Edina and her dramatics and dancing when she’s in goal. I miss Joshua and the way he runs absolutely everywhere. I miss Ema and the way he likes to lead and protect the other children. I miss Joice and her incredible sass. I miss Nuru and his inquisitive mind. I miss cooking with Joice and Prisca. I miss Eric and the way he laughs at the dramatic bits in action films. I miss walking around Mwanza (and even the shouts of ‘Msungu’). I miss power cuts. I miss the view of Lake Victoria from Hotel Tilapia. I miss watching football games in Corner Bar. I miss not having street lights. I miss haggling prices with market sellers only to give in. I miss jam with dozens of different E numbers. I miss geckos scaling the walls and checking the long drop for cockroaches, armed with a baseball bat. I miss having dirty feet. I miss not wearing make up and not looking in a mirror for days on end. I miss buying chapatis and rice and beans from Martina at Buswelu Corner. I miss getting shocks from the electric cooker. I miss the two-hour round trip into town just to check emails. I miss speaking Swahili. I miss Tanzania.