– “It is possible to do great things from a small place”
Tunde Onakoya is changing the communities around him one chess piece at a time. He runs Chess in slums, an organization that teaches vulnerable kids how to play chess, and he’s sharing the individual stories of the children he’s coaching. Chess in slums came alive in the slums of Majidun, Ikorodu, Lagos when he met Basirat, a five-year-old child who wouldn’t let him go until he gave her a piece to hold.
Two years down the line, with a hundred kids successfully trained and thirteen children on lifelong scholarships, Tunde Onakoya keeps defying all odds by reaching into different slums to give a chess piece to underprivileged children.
This recent tournament happened at the heart of Lagos. A low-income community, tagged ‘the floating village of Makoko’ or ‘the slums of Makoko’ stilts in a lagoon off the Third Mainland, where Tunde Onakoya discovered Ferdinand, a child battling spastic cerebral palsy. According to Tunde, Ferdinand outperformed everyone at the training centre a few minutes into learning board arrangements.
Using the classic chess movie “The Queen’s Gambit” as inspiration, Tunde worked with his team to make suits for the children who participated in the competition. “We had a revolutionary idea to make suits for the boys and dresses for the girls,” Tunde wrote, “to tell a new narrative of children in the slums that is not just one of poverty, but an image of what is possible if they’re given equal opportunities to excel.”
After two weeks of chess lessons, chess in slums organized a tournament to celebrate their excellence, and Ferdinand won with a phenomenal performance. “In those two weeks where we taught him chess, I never heard him speak an English word,” Tunde says. “but on the final day of the tournament when he held up his trophy, he muttered the word ‘champion’.”
During the period they stayed at Makoko, Tunde and his team profiled about a hundred children who do not go to school, and they are launching a campaign to get them back to school to establish a chess centre in their community.
According to Tunde, ‘a slum is just a place. It doesn’t define the people who live there. This is why we must be relentless in our fight to create an equitable future for these children who have been marginalized for so long.
To let them know that their dreams are valid too.”