For the Colchester Sun

Fariha Nawar and Tullia Mamenga have debated their way to the top of Vermont’s public forum debate community, and were crowned state champs in the March competition. The two will be representing Vermont in the national competition in Milwaukee, Wis. in May.

Fariha, a Colchester High School sophomore, and Tullia, a junior, both joined the debate team last school year after recommendations from the team’s adviser and guidance counselor Bob Hall. When they were paired up for one of their first competitions, something clicked and they’ve been debate partners ever since.

“What appealed to me was specifically public speaking,”Fariha said. “I’ve always been kind of quiet and I guess I was interested in developing my ability to communicate things effectively to people.”

Tullia was first motivated to join after she heard her friend talking about the team, but said she stayed because of the close bonds she has formed with her debate partners and the team members.

The topic for March’s debate was whether market rate housing should be promoted in the U.S. While that topic might seem completely out of the realm of teenage discussions,Fariha and Tullia can talk about the subject at a college level, proving they know their stuff.

“It’s just good developing knowledge on stuff that we had no idea about before, like market rate housing,”Fariha explained. “At first glance, it’s like why do I need to know about that, but…when we grow up we’re probably going to have to buy a house and know this kind of stuff, so it’s cool to have some background on it.”

She said it’s difficult to prepare every time because one month they might be debating a topic surrounding the country’s debt, and the next they could be talking about college basketball. The teams only have a short time to prepare as well; they’re given the topic on the first of the month prior to the debate, but also have to be preparing for their current competition in the meantime.

“It’s a lot. It’s kind of like doing homework,” Tullia laughed.

Fariha and Tullia said during the preparation for each debate, they might prefer one side to another, but they have to be ready to argue both, as well as have rebuttals ready for when their opponents fire back. While this may be difficult, the pair agree it’s important to not only better understanding the topic, but it also has prepared them to see both sides of other issues in their daily lives.

“Especially in our current climate right now, we’re definitely very divided,” Tullia said. “It’s kind of hard to meet in the middle at times, so just trying to listen to the other side and see the other side’s arguments or point of view would help bring us closer together.”

They said the hardest part about preparing for the state competition was understanding the topic in front of them, because it was something they had never even heard about before. While preparation can be grueling, they said it was worth the effort when they were crowned state champions.

“It was really shocking,”Fariha said of their win. “It felt really good later, though, because we worked so hard for it…all the work paid off.”

Fariha and Tullia will be competing in the national debate tournament in May in Milwaukee, Wisconsin alongside their speech team state champion Gloria Kigonya. The trio are working to fundraise the $5,000 necessary to make the trip. Their GoFundMe donation page can be found at