Chess changes kids’ lives from Uganda to Seattle

The Queen of Katwe is a real-life story told in a book and Disney live-action movie…and the story continues to develop. At Chess4Life HQ in Bellevue, WA, thousands of students develop Life Skills Through Chess: critical thinking skills, focus, planning, social-emotional skills and more. On the opposite side of the world, similar life-changing results are being seen…meet Phiona & Benjamin, whose story has brought them on an amazing journey that includes the Slums of Uganda, Red Carpet of Hollywood, Chess4Life, and most recently Northwest University in Kirkland, WA!

Phiona Mutesi and Benjamin Mukumbya, whose lives are portrayed in Disney’s movie Queen of Katwe, grew up in the slums of Katwe in Uganda and are now poised to begin the next adventure of their lives- attending Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington with a full tuition scholarship.

Enjoy the full story below:

I’m Elliott Neff, founder of Chess4Life, and I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the real life people behind Disney’s Queen of Katwe movie. This movie tells the amazing story of Phiona Mutesi, a young girl from the slums of Katwe whose life is changed forever through discovering chess.

Phiona Mutesi (right) playing chess in the Sports Outreach Mission Chess Academy

You may have watched the movie in theaters, on an airline flight or on DVD. The suspenseful, accurate, and often humorous chess narrative combined with the heart-warming, real-life story make it well worth your time.

From living on the streets, to becoming champion in Uganda, then representing her country at the World Olympiad, and on to the red carpet of Hollywood, Phiona’s story is inspiring millions to never give up, to pursue dreams regardless of obstacles, to persevere — as there is the seed of a champion in every person.

I heard of the book Queen of Katwe in 2013, before the Disney movie was even begun, and helped support the Queen of Katwe project by hosting a tournament fundraiser at Chess4Life in Bellevue, WA.

Phiona and Robert’s first visit to Chess4Life in 2013

That first meeting with Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi led to a friendship as well as a coaching relationship as I had the privilege of helping Phiona prepare for the World Chess Olympiad 2014.

The friendship continued, and in August 2016, I again had the opportunity to travel to Uganda to help Phiona and the Ugandan Women’s Olympiad chess team prepare for the World Chess Olympiad 2016.

Phiona and the Ugandan Women’s Olympiad Team

While there, I experienced first hand the reality of what life is like in the slums of Katwe where the story began. I also met Benjamin Mukumbya. This trip led to the idea of inviting Benjamin to come to Chess4Life and study during the Spring of 2017 to help him develop his chess talent.

At Chess4Life, our mission is indeed to develop Life Skills Through Chess with a goal of helping reach 1 million children per week, and it was amazing to discover the same mission in action on the opposite side of the world, led by Robert Katende!

Now, there is an important update in this developing story: Phiona & Benjamin have both been offered and accepted full-tuition scholarships to attend Northwest University (NU) in Kirkland Washington! However, there are barriers…visas, flight costs, living expenses, and more!

Benjamin registering for fall 2017 classes at Northwest University in Kirkland, WA – June 2017

In order to help them out further, we helped put together this GoFundMe page where you can read much more about the story, view more pics, and perhaps consider helping the dreams of these young people continue to unfold!

We also have scheduled a special appearance with Phiona & Benjamin on National Chess Day (Oct 14th) to occur in Kirkland where they plan to play chess with children

Additional ways you could perhaps support:

  • Share the story
  • Do you know any organization or someone who may want to schedule an appearance with Robert Katende, the Queen of Katwe Phiona Mutesi, and/or Benjamin Mukumbya? Their story is inspiring and encouraging for many! (feel free to email me at [email protected] if so, or connect on LinkedIn)

Thank-you for reading and sharing! Together we can indeed make a difference!

Elliott Neff

National Master & Founder of Chess4Life

Life Skills Through Chess youtube video