I’ve been in shock twice in my life. The first time was when my best friend broke his arm playing five-a-side football. It was a nasty break. The bone came through the skin and he lost a lot of blood. I helped him out of the school hall on a rush of adrenaline. It was only later, after the ambulance had gone, that I started to feel breathless and my hands shook uncontrollably.
The second time was in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I felt fine while I talked to volunteers from a sanitation project in a slum area, but the moment I left, I felt the same familiar symptoms. Their Sisyphean task felt as jarring as my friend’s spilled blood. They’d made me promise to tell their story to people in the UK, and writing it seemed like a way to put my shock to some use. That piece was shortlisted for the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition in 2009, the first time my work had been published outside the student press.
I’ve been asked to tell you how I “broke into” journalism, which makes it sound like a heist. Maybe it was. Being shortlisted for the Guardian competition, and travelling to India to write a second piece, wasn’t a robbery, but it at least got me over the first fence.