On Saturday, April 19, Uganda's Junior chess champion Phiona Mutesi and her coach, Robert Katende began a 33 day tour of the US to share her inspiring story of chess, education and faith coming together to create an amazing life transformation.
Phiona's story is told in the book "The Queen of Katwe" (Scribner, paperback released October 2013) which will soon be made into a movie by Disney.
A young girl in the slums of Kampala was only looking for some food when she followed her brother to a shack where a Ugandan missionary was teaching kids chess. While Phiona couldn't read or write, she learned the game quickly, showed promise in her style of play and has since become one of her nation's top chess players. Growing up she did not go to school consistently and had never even been on the road to the airport, let alone to travel the world.
On April 24 she and her coach, missionary Robert Katende, presented to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and are visiting schools, chess programs and churches in different cities while in the US. Her stops include Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, DC, Memphis, Charlotte and others).
"Phiona's prior visits to the US have been great door openers for chess in education," said Robert McLellan, who organized Phiona's prior visits to chess programs and is now the communications and development director for National Scholastic Chess Foundation (nscfchess.org). "Based on her success using chess to overcome the greatest poverty, political leaders, school administrators and educators who are not necessarily chess fans quickly see the many benefits chess can offer kids of every socioeconomic community here in America."
This tour will raise funds for US programs as well as to help build a chess academy that will be part of a new education center being constructed by Sports Outreach Institute in Kampala. McLellan is hoping the chess community will help support the tour and the academy by contributing to a social media fundraising campaign at https://fundly.com/phiona-mutesi-usa-uganda-chess-education-campaign
Today, Phiona is almost 18; she is working to finish school and go to university to become a doctor. Phiona competed in Olympiads in Siberia and Istanbul and recently qualified to play Board 1 in Tromso. In December she used part of an award she received to host a 5 day chess clinic for girls from the 5 slum areas around Kampala. The funds provided were to cover the costs for 200 girls; they had 460 attend! Wishing to open the doors of opportunity for other girls and women, Phiona has quickly progressed from a 9-year old girl in search of a bowl of porridge, from student to teacher and from child to mentor; she is a true example of hope in Uganda and of the power of chess in education.
For more information about Phiona, coach Katende and the Sports Outreach chess programs, visit www.queenofkatwe.com.