The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Mariame Keita

Mariame Keita

Student, KU Leuven / UN Youth Delegate, Vlaamse Jeugdraad (1995)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m a law student at KU Leuven, and an all-round engaged youth. I was elected by the Flemish Youth Council to be a UN Youth Delegate last year, which means that I have the honour to represent the voices of young people on an international level at the United Nations. This means that my daily life is divided between the Youth Council in Brussels, the law faculty in Leuven, and my friends and family who live in Leuven as well.

Leuven is my personal safe-haven. The place I call home.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Leuven is my personal safe-haven. The place I call home. I always say Leuven is a village, because you often get the impression that everyone knows each other, somehow. At the same time, I’ve never been bored in this city. The list of to-do’s is endless: film festivals, academic lectures, cafés and restaurants, theatre, dance, … You’re bound to always find a new challenge or new experience here.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

“Leuven. Centuries old, but alive and kicking,” is the slogan of the City – and it’s no lie. The buildings and its history are beautiful and impressive, whilst its people are young and energetic. I love this magnificent contradiction.

How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

The city plays a very important role in my “career”: when I was 17, I became involved in the design of Leuven’s new youth council, Kabinet J. My engagement with and for fellow youths is inherently connected to Leuven.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

Leuven could do with more diversity: it sometimes feels like a little bubble, and hard to get out of. I was recently on a metro in New York City, next to a black woman praying aloud, across from a dancing Asian gay couple with blue and pink hair, and two seats away from an elderly woman talking to a young Mexican boy reading Vogue. This kind of scene would attract a lot of attention in Leuven. Our city is safe and comfortable, but it doesn’t necessarily challenge you to be open-minded or to think differently.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

I would definitely take them for a drink on Oude Markt – the place is beautiful, and every little café has its own story. I love how it represents the history of the city, its beer culture and student life.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

Apparently the Cities of Lier and Leuven had to choose between hosting either a sheep-market or a university in the 14th century.  Leuven opted for the university – I guess they made the right choice, as no one’s ever heard about the sheep-market today, while KU Leuven eventually became one of the top universities in Europe.