How Chess Is Changing Young Lives In Uganda Slums

We all fell in love with that blockbuster movie ‘ Queen of Katwe’ staring Academy award winner Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo depicting an inspiring true story of Phiona Mutesi and coach Robert Katende.

The film shows nine-year old Mutesi who followed his elder brother Brian Mugabi in the slums of dusty Katwe, a ghetto suburb of Kampala City, where Katende tried to teach the children the game of chess. And its from there where Mutesi picked the love of the game, and went on to become a champion, a star. This is real.

Most children came for porridge but they ended up falling in love with the game, and their lives have never been the same since.

Queen of Katwe tells a real life story

Katende’s love stems from his dark background in Kiboga where he was born to a 14 year old mother but brought up by the grand parent.

Katende came in the City when he was seven years old to stay with her teen mother who later passed away in Nakulabye!

How he managed to champion from there on, is another Walter Disney Pictures worthy story.

Fast forward, Katende is now the director of Sports Outreach in Uganda and have their base in Mityana where they have helped to transform lives of the less privileged.

With his team, they have managed to take the game of chess to the slums and attracting street kids to it.

He says that Chess saved him, and he is now using the game to educate children who are now learning how to think critically, socialise and motivated.

This was initially like a trial basis but it has managed to bring many on board because of Katende’s hard work, belief and perseverance.

Robert Katende. Kigozi Brazilian photo

“I grew up in a slum, those ends of Kiyaaye, Kiwuunya,” Katende says. “After my university (Kyambogo), I had to come up with this (Chess tourneys, Sports Outreach) to inspire the kids.”

On Friday, the 14th edition of the SOM Annual Inter-Project Chess Tournament climaxed where over 300 children from all parts of Uganda took part.

“Som Chess tourneys have made a good impact. We started this way back, giving children platform at Katwe slums.

“We have started many chess initiative and this is the 14th. About 324 children from all programs across the country, and Kenya where we started six years earlier, came to take part.”

This year’s SOM tourney ran for three days since and the participants played under three categories – Category A for those playing for the first time in the event, Category B for the intermediate and the Rated Category for the seniors.

Lawrence Muganga was the chief guest on the final day – He is a Professor at Albert University in Canada.

Some of the Junior participants

“We played with some of the great players today which felt good on my side, said Claire Gumoshabe who was one of the participants.

“Playing Chess increases our thinking capacity and concentration which can be applied in our daily lives to solve real life problems. There are also prizes to win and many other good opportunities.”

Did you know?

SOM Chess Academy was started in 2004. It is one of the entities of The Robert Katende Initiative.

Katende had only one chess board and with it; he introduced Chess in the Slums of Katwe. By teaching children how to play, he used the platform to teach life principles and nurture character; they call themselves The Pioneers. The SOM Chess Academy currently has centers in five different Slums in Kampala among others.



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