Young Women Breaking The Bias: A Day In The Life Of Zinnia and Nadi

Around 41% of young people in our services are women – and we know each and every one has an incredibly inspiring story. This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, so our Digital Campaigns and Mobilisation Officer Pooja Singh had a chat with former and current Centrepoint residents Zinnia and Nadi.

Zinnia is a painter and decorator and a three time award winner! After getting involved with Centrepoint, she was accepted onto an apprenticeship in construction.

Nadi is a sixth form college student, studying health and social care and a soon-to-be undergraduate: she’s just been accepted onto a course at Bedfordshire University and plans to become a psychotherapist, majoring in psychology, counselling and therapy.

Tell us a little bit about your life.

Zinnia: I’m a painter and decorator for The Autism Society and I’ve been there for five years now. I got my Level 2 certificate and I’m currently in the process of applying get my Level 3. In 2018, I won three awards: Centrepoint’s Rising Star award, an award from work and the Youth Build award which celebrates young people who’ve had a difficult upbringing but managed to achieve a job in construction.    

One of the main things I’ve been working on is a project called ‘Centrepaint’ which I came up with in 2018. It’s for young residents at Centrepoint’s services interested in painting and decorating. It will help them see if it’s something they’d like to pursue as a career. Centrepaint is being funded by a construction company who are providing equipment and volunteers to help. It’s currently just for services in Sunderland but will soon be rolled out nationwide!

Nadi: I’ve been living at a Centrepoint service for almost a year and I’m currently doing my retakes at college - I’m studying health and social care after dropping out a few years ago for personal reasons.

When I came to Centrepoint I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I had a lot going on in my life personally, but since settling in and being supported, I’m now back on track. I decided to go back to college last minute but it is going really well.

What challenges do you face on a day-to day basis?

Zinnia: My daily challenge is my social anxiety. I am always really nervous and uncomfortable when I’m around people, and that’s a challenge because I’m around people every single day at work. But I have to push through this because I love my job so much and I don’t want that to stop me from doing what I’m doing.

Nadi: For me, it's trying to stay motivated and focused. Generally, I'm a focused person, but lately I’ve been trying to motivate myself more.

Another challenge would be living independently. As an ethnic woman, we grow up to know how to cook and clean, but we have our mums with us so we have the option to not do these things. Now that I’m by myself, sometimes I don’t want to cook or I try to postpone chores, which is when I need motivation.  

As a woman, what stereotypes or biases do you have to (or want to) challenge on a day-to day basis?

Zinnia: Sexism. I think some of the men I work with think because I’m a woman, they can do the job better than me.

I think more women need to get into the construction industry – we do the job well because we have patience. I feel like we live in a time where construction isn’t just a man’s job and women can do it too. People talk about me and say things like "She’s a typical woman" or "She has high standards" and I just turn around and say "Yeah – it’s because I want the job done properly," and I just walk away. I’m proud to be a woman and proud to admit that I think we do the job better.

Nadi: I’m a Muslim, Somali woman - so the biggest challenge for me was growing up with the stereotype that a woman can’t make it out of their family alone, or that living alone is not possible. And because of the upbringing I had, I knew I had to prove it. At 19 I left my house, but I went to college and now I’m going to go to university, so I broke the bias. I want to be able to say, "Look, I did it, and if I did it there must be others that can". I’m not the first and I won’t be the last.

What does a typical morning look like for you?

Zinnia: During the week my daily routine is that I get up and ready for work, sort the cats out, go to work, come home and watch horror movies, then go to bed. Some days are busier; I'll go to Centrepoint services after work and do Centrepaint, and every Friday I have a Zoom meeting because I’m working on my second book.

One of the things I’ve learnt is keeping on top of my mental health means staying busy. It’s one of the reasons I had the idea for the Centrepaint project, because I know it’ll benefit lots of people but it’ll also benefit me because it will help keep me busy.

Nadi: I have two typical mornings. On weekdays, I wake up, shower, sometimes have breakfast and get ready for college. On the days I’m not in college my days start a little later, and I try to get in an hour of studying every morning because that’s when I’m functioning. I do a skincare routine on the weekends and maybe read a book!

Name three achievements you’re really proud of.

Zinnia: I think my biggest achievement is getting out of bed every morning. There’s some days where I don’t have the energy or strength, or I’m feeling really depressed and I can’t be bothered, but I have to force myself out of bed and go to work and deal with people. Sometimes I just want to hide and curl up in a ball but I know I can’t do that and I have to go to work.

My other biggest achievement is being able to talk about my life. There’s a lot of things that are personal and it’s hard to talk about that sometimes because there’s so many people that might judge me. It takes a lot of strength to ignore them, and I know it’s going to help at least one person out there, which for me is an achievement.

Nadi: The first one is going back to college - I’m really proud of myself for that. Another one would be how far I’ve come and how I’ve blossomed as a person despite everything. I don’t have a social worker so I had to contact the council myself and navigate around that until I reached Centrepoint.

The third achievement would be that I’m actually living for myself. For a long time I was living for how my parents wanted me to live, and for once I get to make the choices that I want.

What is one thing you wish people knew about you?

Zinnia: One thing I want people to know about me is that even though I don’t have my daughter in my care, I am still the proudest mam ever. I get letters every year telling me how she’s doing and I’m so proud that the decision I made to put her up for adoption was the best decision for her. She’s being brought up by two mams that love her and are giving her the best life and I couldn’t be happier. So that’s something that a lot of people don’t know.

Nadi: I’m an incredibly fast learner and not many people know this. I’ve picked up a lot of skills, there's so much I can do - for example, I taught myself a language, I do my own hair and have never paid to get it done. I’m also a good artist.

Shout out a woman who inspires you and tell us why.

Zinnia: I’ll say myself, because there’s some days where I amaze myself and say, "Did I just really do that?!" or "Did I just really say that?" or when I wonder how I got through the day. I am also inspired by my daughter, because everything I am doing today is to make my life better because I want her to be proud of me.

Nadi: Bella, my older sister. She’s literally been the blueprint for me. I have looked up to her since I was a little girl. She owns her own company which sells modest clothes, and she did it out of her own pocket. Everything she does is inspiring.

What is a positive affirmation that you live by?

Zinnia: I think always thinking about my daughter is my biggest affirmation. I always repeat to myself, "I’m doing this for her," or "She’s going to be proud of me for doing this," and that’s what gets me through the days.

Nadi: I tell myself "This is all part of the plan" quite a lot, and I always try and see the bigger picture, and try and trust and thank God. Also the five-by-five rule, where you determine the time that you give to a situation by asking yourself if it will matter in five years.

Share something that we can all do to create a diverse, equal and equitable world.

Zinnia: We should be helping each other a lot more. Being more supportive of each other and not so judgemental. I hate when people think they have to look a certain way or be a certain way to be accepted. People should just accept us the way we are.

Nadi: Just listening. We have to listen to people, and try and understand how things could be different. People have set norms in their head and can be close-minded. If people’s voices were actually heard and paid attention to, it’d be a very different world.

We think Nadi and Zinnia are incredibly inspirational and empowering women. We wish them the best of luck for their exciting futures ahead, and we’re so honoured to be a part of their journeys!

To find out more about the wonderful women in our services, read our Real Stories.