In February 2018, GO Campaign gave a grant to SOM Chess Academy in Uganda to support their mobile chess clinics allowing them to reach more youth. Prior to the grant, the chess program was at capacity with a growing waitlist of children eager to learn the game. The grant was used to pay for the allowances of instructors and guides, purchase projector equipment, chess sets and training guides, and help pay for the children’s travel costs. SOM Chess Academy now has programs in North, East, and West Central Uganda teaching chess to vulnerable youth. This grant has directly impacted over 4,600 youth!
The chess program not only teaches the rules and skills needed to play the game but students in this program have shown significant improvements in academic performance. For youth from very remote regions, this program has given opportunities that would have been impossible for them to have otherwise. Getting the chance to compete in a national event or to travel to the capital city is incredible– and the ripple effects of that are huge. Local Hero Robert Katende writes, “this made the entire community more vibrant because they have never had anyone travel to compete in the nationals before. And the 6 medals they got from the competitions caused great joy and celebration in the community.”
For youth with disabilities, this program has opened doors that they never knew existed. “None of them had ever expected to compete in any sport with the able-bodied on a neutral ground. Chess has proved to be a neutralizer.” Two children from the Differently-Abled Chess Program were able to travel to New Jersey to represent Uganda in the World Junior Chess Championship for the Disabled. An unexpected benefit to come out of this program has been family acceptance for these youths. Individuals with disabilities are often seen as outcasts, written off by their own relatives. “The chess program has created a new world for them. This has drastically changed the phobia that has existed for centuries when it comes to disabilities. Even to the youth themselves, it has given them an imaginable self-belief and greatly boosted their self-esteem.”
The GO Campaign grant made it possible to increase the number of instructors and the quantity of chess equipment. Now that the grant has ended, SOM Chess Academy will continue their program but will have to scale back their reach. Robert Katende intends to advocate for more financial support to continue, “restoring hope and transforming lives of those youths craving for an opportunity to thrive.”
“My name is John, I am 16 years old and am in primary seven. My parents separated because of my disability. My mum dumped me at the catholic charity because she couldn’t afford the basic needs to live. The charity supported me, and I started attending Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped where I met Coach Robert Katende and Julius Ssali. They taught me chess and in 2018 I was able to represent my country in the World Competitions that took place in the USA. I [could have never imagined] that I would ever be able to represent my country and even reach the USA. SOM Chess Academy has given me an opportunity to dream and be someone in life.”