The students behind the Breaking the Barrier podcast: Swahiba Uddin, Sumayya Carmally, Marium Rukiya and Mithila Hossain.

Students launch podcast empowering minorities to break down personal barriers

Four sixth-formers from Central Foundation Girls School have released Breaking the Barrier podcast discussing the challenge of breaking down social barriers from racism and sexism to Islamophobia.

Dozens of purple and yellow balloons cover the floor of Central Foundation Sixth Form Centre, where a flurry of girls move around the room straightening chairs and handing out flyers before taking their seats among teachers, community organisers and members of the local media. 

Gathering on the top floor of the school above the noisy traffic of Mile End Road, we are here to celebrate the launch of Breaking the Barrier podcast: the product of a year-long undertaking by four students who sit in the front row stealing expectant glances at each other.

First conceived in March 2022, the podcast addresses the inequalities and social barriers the students have faced personally, from self-confidence and impostor syndrome to sexism and Islamophobia. 

Funded by a £17,000 grant from Near Neighbours’ leadership programme, the project aims to empower people from religiously and ethnically diverse communities beyond the school gates, as well as create a legacy at Central Foundation. 

Taking to the lectern to introduce the podcast is spokesperson and project leader, Sumayya Carmally, who recalled the team’s long journey from allocating leadership roles and producing the podcast, right up to organising the launch party. 

Addressing the room with the self-assuredness and poise that you might expect from a teacher rather than a student, Carmally considers herself a fairly confident person. 

Though she says this has not always been the case: ‘When I was in primary school I never considered myself to be an outgoing person, but I learnt confidence by thrusting myself into scenarios that require it. 

‘If anyone in this audience feels like they haven’t really reached their full confidence, I want to stress to you that confidence is not innate, you are not born with confidence, you can learn it, and it’s never too late.’

‘My nickname among my friends is ‘the minority within the minority’ because I’ve never met another Mauritian friend or someone outside of my family setting. It was only when we sat down to record the first episode that I realised that I’d never talked about my culture before, and the podcast gave me the space to do that which was really empowering.’

Swahiba Uddin, podcast manager and next to take to the microphone confesses that she was ‘internally freaking out’ speaking to a room of so many people. But she says that launching the podcast taught her to use stress to her advantage and to communicate with her team when she felt like she was struggling. 

Overcoming barriers of a different kind, tech and production leader Marium Rukiya taught herself the skills to single-handedly edit the podcast and produce the trailer. Described by her teachers as a ‘computer whizz,’ Rukiya says she was determined not to be held back by the barriers that exist for women in the tech industry.  

‘Looking back I think I was pushed towards careers like journalism and subjects that were seen as feminised and socially acceptable for me. When I realised I wanted to go into computer science I knew how hard it would be to break the stigma around girls going into tech but this is something that I’m really passionate about breaking,’ said Rukiya. 

Branding and marketing leader Mithila Hossain says that she initially felt a sense of impostor syndrome being the only member of the team not to be a senior prefect, though she needn’t have worried about not giving enough to the project. 

Tasked with creating the logo, flyers and bookmarks, as well as managing the podcast’s social media accounts, Hossain says it was by openly communicating with her peers that she was able to overcome this sense of not belonging. 

With A-Level exams and university offers on the horizon for the year 13s, many of the Central Foundation students are hoping to be the first generation in their family to go to university next year. 

As well as recognising their journeys of personal growth, across the students’ testimonies is a desire to empower others with their stories. 

As Hossain says: ‘The online audience is no longer passive: whatever we give to people, they take it and they make something out of it. 

‘Our main goal is that other marginalised groups out there who feel held back by any part of their identity – whether it be race, religion or gender – learn that those barriers are only temporary and will only truly stop you if you internalise them.’ 

If you enjoyed reading this piece, you might like our interview with Burte Gerelt-Od, a Mongolian teenager in Bow.

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