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Illiterate Ugandan Girl Finds Success in Chess, the Game of Kings
She grew up in one of the poorest areas of the planet. She could neither read nor write and almost every day, she had to go to bed with an empty stomach. Her father and older sister are both dead, her mother is never home. However, Phiona Mutesi will become the star of an upcoming Disney movie, reports CNN. Phiona Mutesi is a chess genius.
Several American magazines as well as video documentaries on YouTube and other platforms are telling about the unusual life of this girl, whose age no one knows exactly.
Her strategic talent in the game is incredible. In 2011, a biography of the young girl was published with the title “Queen of Katwe”. Katwe is Fiona’s home – she grew up in one of Kampala’s poorest suburbs.
Trading food for chess lessons
Her story begins with her search for a bowl of posho in 2005. At the age of nine, she walked the streets of Katwe. Even today the country is short of water, there is no electricity and the roads are made of compacted mud. There is plastic waste everywhere. Rats, dogs and other animals live with humans in a very small part of the space. No less than half of the mothers in Katwe are younger than 20 years old.
Life was really hard. I slept on the street”, said Phiona about her life before chess. When she was three years old, she had already lost her father. He had died of AIDS, a very common cause of death in the area.
Some time later, an older sister of Phiona died of malaria. From that time, Fiona’s mother had to feed the whole family by herself. Phiona, therefore, did not come home at night quite often. The girl tried to sell avocados in the local market, but the income was always low. At the end of the day, there was no way Phiona was going to pay her school fees.
One night, when Phiona was alone looking for something to eat, she met Robert Katende. Katende is a missionary and chess teacher. He made the girl an offer: She would get food, but only if she took a chess lesson. Phiona agreed.
Games against the toughest opponents
“At first, chess meant nothing more to me than giving me a bowl of posh,” the teenager tells her biographer, ESPN’s Tim Crothers. Crothers describes the girl as “the last chess loser.” Soon, Phiona became more interested in chess. “When I first saw people playing a game of chess, all I could think was, ‘What is this game that makes all the other kids stare in silence?’ Then I saw them playing chess and having just as much fun even excited. I wanted to have the chance to be so happy.”
From that day on, Phiona walked the 6.5 kilometers from her home to Katende’s church, where they only had seven chessboards. Some figures were missing, so people replaced them with items they found in the trash. Today, the project owns their chess computer.
Katende realized about Phiona’s talent after the first lesson. He tested it by setting up matches against the most skilled chess players he knew.
“When I first met Phiona, I thought that girls are weak and can’t do anything. Then, however, I realized that Phiona could not only play chess as well as boys, but better than them.” , says Ivan Mutesasira. “Her style of play is aggressive. She likes to attack, and when you play against her, you’ll always find yourself pushed further until you have no other move.”
Although the chess teacher describes Fiona’s talent as extraordinary, he also knows that it took the girl about a year to become really good at the game.
“When I started beating older girls and boys, I realized that I am better at chess than others.” Now, of course, Phiona wants to become a chess master. She is on the right track towards this goal: she has already won the national youth chess competition three times. The photos show him with the many gold medals he has won.
Participation in international competitions
Today, Phiona travels the world to represent her country, Uganda, internationally. She has already been to Sudan, Turkey, the United States of America – and even Siberia. A few years ago she was just a Ugandan girl who had never seen clouds from above and had no idea what snow was. “I thought I was in heaven,” she wrote to her mother, according to Crothers.
For her teacher Katende, Phiona’s success is a success for the whole project. “Chess teaches you how to assess situations, make decisions, solve problems, see every task as an opportunity – and not give up. Discipline, patience… everything that is part of real life is also part of this game. called chess”.
In fact, Phiona’s success was never universally supported. Many people in Uganda still think that chess is a man’s game. Girls and women should not try the game.
So far, Phiona didn’t just learn how to read and write. She also speaks English, and has declared her next goal. Phiona wants to go to university and become a doctor: “Chess gave me the chance to go back to school. It showed me there is more to life than I knew there was.” Instinct Safaris Uganda Limited had the opportunity to meet Phiona. Her story was inspiring and passionate. When we do sustainable safaris, it is our aim to make a positive difference to the lives of everyone involved.
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