Hello again from everyone at the OM@home blog, a blog about children and young people, written for children and young people . . . .
For young people just like you, about young people who inspire us here at OM HQ.
Young people like Phiona Mutesi . . . .
She comes from one of the poorest towns in one of the poorest countries on the planet . . .
Her father died from Aids when she was just three years old. She lives in a hut that is tiny, sewage is all around, sanitation non-existent, and she has to walk several miles in order to fill a jug with drinking water. She doesn’t go to school and, instead, spent her childhood scrounging for food to feed herself, her mother and her brother. She isn’t even sure of her exact age (although she’s said to be around 16).
That life has been tough for Phiona is quite an understatement . . .
It doesn’t sound much like Disney, although as difficult as it might be to believe, the teenager’s tale is about to be made into a movie.
You see, Phiona has done something that doesn’t tend to happen in her hometown (Katwe, Uganda): she has escaped the slums.
That chess has been Phiona’s salvation makes hers a narrative that even Hollywood’s most imaginative scriptwriters might have struggled to concoct . . .
In Katwe’s slums, more than 50 percent of teenage girls are mothers, yet Phiona is following a path that has never before been trod. It is one that avoids premature pregnancy, crippling hunger and disease, even if such things have left their scars. That she is still able to smile astonishes us. Perhaps it’s because she knows she’s destined for better things.
Call it fate, but chess found her one morning, a small child living on the streets, desperate for something to eat.
Robert Katende, a missionary, had started a program in Katwe and offered porridge to anyone interested in learning the game.
‘Chess teaches people to assess, to make decisions,’ he explains. ‘It’s about forward thinking, forecasting, endurance and problem-solving. It’s about seeing problems as opportunities and not giving up. The discipline, the patience – anything that a person can need in life can be found in this game.’
Phiona showed great promise from the start, although she has had to practice hard. She had to walk four miles, every day, in order to play (and receive her porridge). It’s paying off now . . .
You see, in time she became the best player in Uganda and was later crowned African Champion, the youngest person to ever claim such a prize. Her talent – and her sacrifices – mean that she has the world at her feet. She has featured in a best-selling book, soon to become a movie, and she hopes to become a Grand Master. But Phiona has never forgotten her desperate roots.
Her ambition is to earn enough to build a house for her mother, outside Katwe, and to inspire others to set their sights beyond the slums and achieve better things in life. It’s said that if you’re born in Katwe, you die in Katwe, either as a result of disease, violence or neglect. Phiona is proof that, with enough determination and belief, anyone can achieve anything.
‘Years ago, we never had hope,’ she explains. ‘[The people back home] are so excited, they’re crying. One day, it can happen . . .’
Here at OM®, we couldn’t be more inspired. Phiona has proved once and for all that anything is possible and that hope always exists. Phiona’s doing great things. You can do great things too . . .