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Chess Prodigy Phiona Mutesi Sets Off on US Tour

Uganda’s Junior chess champion Phiona Mutesi and her coach, Robert Katende will meet this week with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to share her inspiring story of how chess, education and faith came together to create an amazing life transformation.

Phiona’s story is told in the book “The Queen of Katwe,” 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 to play 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.

The Gates Foundation, which focuses on education, health and global development, was introduced to Phiona during a Women in the World Summit in New York a year ago. Phiona received an award at the Summit and was able to pay her own school fees for the year as well as to set aside funds for college. In December, she used a portion of the funds to host a five-day chess clinic for girls from five poverty-stricken areas around Kampala. The funds provided were to cover the costs for 200 girls; they had 460 attend.

phiona chess“Phiona’s prior visits to the U.S. have been great door openers for chess in education,” said Robert McLellan, the communications and development director for National Scholastic Chess Foundation. McLellan is organizing her visits to schools and chess programs across the country. “Based on her success using chess to overcome the greatest poverty, school administrators and educators who are not necessarily chess fans quickly see the many benefits chess can offer students in every socioeconomic community here in America.”

This tour will raise funds for U.S. 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 to generate support for the tour and the academy through a social media fundraising campaign at

Today, Phiona is almost 18; she is working to finish school and go to university to become a doctor. Phiona competed in Olympic chess events in Siberia and Istanbul and qualified to play in Norway this summer. 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.


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