Pestaño: A remarkable chess success story-A A +A
Thursday, February 21, 2013
THIS is a wonderful story worth telling. In fact it is so outstanding that it has been featured over and over again by newspapers worldwide for the past several years now and has been made into a book “Queen of Katwe ” by Tim Crothers.
Now that Walt Disney is filming a movie about this girl (started last year) it is time to write about her.
Phiona Mutesi is an Ugandan chess player. She is not certain when she was born, although Fide has estimated it to be 1993. Her father died of AIDS while she was only three and afterwards her older sister Juliet died of an unknown cause.
She couldn’t read or write. As a child, she scrounged for food, selling corn each day for herself, her mother, and her brother in Katwe, a slum in Kampala ,the capital of Uganda,
The extreme poverty and deprivation in Katwe is hard for many around the world to imagine. Crothers wrote that “human waste from downtown Kampala is dumped directly into the slum. There is no sanitation.”
Mutesi woke at 5 a.m. every day to “begin a two-hour trek through Katwe to fill a jug with drinkable water, walking through lowland that is often so severely flooded by Uganda’s torrential rains that many residents sleep in hammocks near their ceilings to avoid drowning” Crothers wrote .
“I thought the life I was living, that everyone was living that life,” the teenager told CNN, describing her childhood. “I was living a hard life, sleeping on the streets, and you couldn’t have anything to eat.”
She heard about a religious charity organization that mentored slum kids and served food, and also taught the kids an odd game called chess.
“I was hungry,” Mutesi says, “I’d never heard of chess, and I’d never seen it. So… I was like, ‘Maybe I can also go there to learn about chess and get a cup of porridge.’”
She remembers on her first visit that, “I was very dirty…They didn’t accept me even to touch the pieces.”
Robert Katende, a missionary , had started a chess program in Katwe, Kampala. He offered a bowl of porridge to any child who would show up and learn.
The first indications that she was good came when she started to beat the boys even older than she. Chess is considered too difficult for girls. But Mutesi changed that belief.
Mutesi is not one of the world’s top chess players, but she is the first titled female Ugandan player.
Eventually, she became her country’s champion -- and represented Uganda at international tournaments. In 2009, she traveled to Sudan.
In 2010 she played on board 2 for Uganda at the 39th Chess Olympiad in Russia, and as of 2011 she is a three-time Women’s Junior Champion in her country. Last year, she played in the Olympiad in Istanbul.
Phiona is also the youngest person ever to win the African chess championship
“Chess has changed my life. Chess gave me hope, whereby now I’m having a hope of becoming a doctor and ... a grand master,” she said.
A grant from a program called Sports Outreach has allowed her to go back to school and she’s learning to read and write.
“I feel happy,” she said when asked about the growing attention. “I’m excited. I didn’t have hope that one time, one day, I would be like someone who can encourage people, and they start playing chess,” she told CNN.
Meanwhile, Mutesi is becoming an inspiration to people all over the world as she is “the ultimate underdog.” She has overcome all kinds of obstacles that the world has placed in front of her thru chess. Mutesi’s success has challenged the expectations of girls worldwide who are like her and Walt Disney thinks she would be a good example to all those similarly situated.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 22, 2013.