Phiona Mutesi (left) went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master.

Phiona Mutesi (left) went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master.

Phiona Mutesi found success as a chess champion when she was a teenager in Uganda. She overcame countless odds to compete and win in international chess tournaments. And now, she’s using her skill for the game to encourage other young people to improve their lives through chess.

Mutesi’s story was depicted in the 2016 film, “Queen Of Katwe,” but she’s just beginning her next chapter as an influential chess ambassador alongside her coach and mentor, Robert Katende.

Guests

  • Phiona Mutesi Ugandan chess champion.
  • Robert Katende Executive director of Sports Outreach Ministry in Uganda; chess teacher and mentor.

Interview Highlights

Phiona Mutesi recently graduated high school! What’s next for her?

“I’m looking forward to joining a university from here. Right now, I’ve got tuition and a scholarship in Seattle so still figuring out the accommodation and everything.  And also, I want to go for social work.  Also, I want to continue with my chess.  I want to become a Grandmaster.”

How does Mutesi imagine her life had she never discovered chess? Would she be pursuing social work at a university level?

“I think I would be nothing of what you have said. I think I would still be on the streets or have given birth to kids when I’m still also a teenager.”

Mutesi now works alongside her coach and mentor, Robert Katende, teaching chess to children all over the world.  Katende says it’s bigger than the game.

I do believe personally that everyone plays chess. You may not physically sit on the chess board to play because you don’t know how those pieces move, but what we do in our day-to-day life situations, it’s all about chess.  We just play chess.  The values we incorporate, the principles, the concepts we all employ are trained from chess. Talk  about obstructive thinking — there is no where you will find, maybe, you go to school to learn how to think. It is rare and I don’t think there is any topic where a teacher will come and say, ‘okay, now I’m going to teach you how to think.’ But when you learn how to play, you find yourself automatically, in a funny way, training yourself to think.”

Katende says that Katwe, the village where Mutesi is from and where she learned the game of chess from him, was affected considerably by the film production of “Queen of Katwe” shot on location there.

“Now when I move in the slum, I hear ‘Coach, coach, when is the movie coming back? When are those people coming back?’ because you can imagine someone who can’t realize a dollar a day and being able to get $20 each day and almost doing no work. They just tell you move, go to this side, now you rest, you wait for the next scene – it was a very big, big, big boost to the entire community.  For the 16 years I’ve been in Katwe, I’ve never seen the community becoming so active and lively as it was during the film time.”

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