Student Spotlight with Fatmata and Mariama Kabia

Fatmata and Mariama Kabia

Mark Stehle

DOUBLE MAJOR: Mariama and Fatmata Kabia, 21, twin senior international relations majors, have created Memunatu Magazine, a national publication for teenage girls in Sierra Leone that promotes literacy, leadership and economic development.
MOTHER’S LAND: Memunatu is named after the sisters’ mother. “She basically embodies what we hope the girls will aspire to be,” Fatmata says. Both of their parents are from Sierra Leone, but the twins were born in America.

INTERNAL READING: The Kabias were inspired to create the magazine to help improve the low literacy rate among girls in Sierra Leone. Mariama says the Sierra Leone Civil War (1991-2002) caused many young girls to drop out of school, resulting in high illiteracy rates.

THE MAGAZINE’S THE THING: Examining ways to improve the literacy rate, Fatmata says she and her sister thought back to their childhoods and how teen magazines boosted their interest in reading. “Basically what magazines did for us was to give us a sense of community and, of course, something fun to read,” Mariama says.

LAND THAT THEY LOVE: The sisters visited Sierra Leone over the summer to conduct ground research for the magazine. They spoke with several principals and head mistresses at both public and private schools.

FREETOWN WRITERS: The Memunatu staff includes mass communication students at the University of Sierra Leone. “Most of them have experience in radio, but they also have experience with newspapers,” Mariama says. “Therefore, our magazine project is a good way for them to get professional experience in a different medium.”

BIG PUBLISHING: To familiarize themselves with the magazine industry, Mariama and Fatmata visited Condé Nast publishing over the summer and spoke with the editors of Teen Vogue, Self and Glamour. “They gave us great advice on how they attract readers and retain readership,” says Mariama.

COVER GIRLS: Readers of Memunatu can nominate cover girls. Fatmata says they are looking for girls who work toward excellence in scholarship, have good public speaking skills and who get along with other girls. “We’re also looking for a girl who has personality and can really inspire other girls to act and to study,” she says.
GLOBE TROTTERS: Mariama is searching for an international relations graduate program with a social entrepreneurship component. Fatmata plans to pursue a law degree with a joint master’s program in foreign policy. Both plan to continue working on the magazine. “This project really does have a future,” says Mariama. “It has the potential to help girls in Sierra Leone, so that will always be a part of my life in some way.”

Originally published on October 13, 2011