We can find inspiration everywhere. Regardless of the age, origin, or culture, you never know who or what will be the next big influence to change your life direction. Such was the impact of me finding out about a girl who plays chess. It is not because she is from Uganda, neither because she was starving to death, the reason I feel moved by her story is because she proves that regardless of your circumstances, finding a purpose of life is the only way how not to survive but to live a life to the full.
Phiona Mutesi was raised by her single mother and was forced to leave school at an early age due to the lack of finance. Later, Phiona’s family ended up on the street and the teenage girl had to learn how to live with the fear of getting raped every day.
One bright day, she went to church. Not to pray, neither to seek a shelter, she was there to get a bowl of porridge that was being given out to the children playing chess there. The food made her come back and, thanks to her competitive nature, she got progressively more involved in the game. Soon after her first victory she realised the potential chess to change one’s life, and it eventually did so.
“She went from church, to chess, to a champion.”
When she was boarding the plane for the first time, she thought she was entering heaven. It was hard for her to return to her previous life but now she can live with the knowledge that anything is possible! A traditional game taught her how to be confident, strategic and always have a plan. Thanks to these skills, Phiona is ready to face the toughest competition of all, the life. She now knows how to dream and how to work hard to turn wishes into reality. She got her mother out of a slum, her next step is to continue studying and receive a law degree.
Phiona’s story shows how food, education and career are interconnected. She went from church, to chess, to a champion (Uganda’s Junior Girls National Chess Champion) and has been an inspiration to many women across the world. For Phiona, chess is a common language which allows her to communicate with anybody whilst fighting for her cause. She taught me never to be afraid and how to always have a goal to achieve.
The film about her life, starring Lupita Nyong, is called Queen of Katwe and the book, The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, And One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream Of Becoming A Grandmaster, can be purchased online.
Blog post inspired by the ELLE Collective’s MY STORY, Phiona Mutesi, ELLE UK, November 2016, p. 154-155.