The International Chess Federation with the support of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Kenya Chess Federation and Kakuma Chess Club has launched a Chess for Protection project, aiming to consolidate and develop chess practice in Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei settlement in Kenya. The name of the project is “Chess for Kakuma and Kalobeyei People”.
The project started today, on 2 August, with the online opening ceremony and simultaneous exhibition played between FIDE Managing Director Dana Reizniece-Ozola and members of Kakuma Chess Club. The kick-off event also featured UNHCR Head of Sub-Office Kahin Ismail, UNHCR Kenya Country Representative Fathiaa Abdalla, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, Chess Kenya President Benard Wanjala, FIDE Vice President Anastasia Sorokina and other officials.
“Over 55% of the refugee population in Kakuma are children and adolescents. The importance of engaging youth in extra-curriculum activities cannot be overestimated. This initiative will no doubt contribute to the wellbeing of youth, their psychological needs and their development. We are very glad to launch this project with all our partners – FIDE, LWF, Kenya Chess Federation, chess clubs in Kakuma. We are looking forward to nurturing and supporting this very important activity as an additional element in which our youth will partake, and I am sure will excel as we see them do in many other sport and cultural activities,” said Kahin Ismail, UNHCR Head of Sub-Office in Kakuma.
“The Chess for Kakuma and Kalobeyei project is an excellent initiative to engage refugee youth in productive and engaging social activities. Chess is becoming increasingly popular among the youth in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. Our young boys and girls, women and men are joining many chess clubs. It will allow youth to bring the solidarity, enthusiasm, inspiration and energy to act as agents of positive change in their communities. I wish to thank FIDE and LWF for providing innovative and productive solutions to address some of the challenges faced by refugee youth in Kakuma and Kalobeyei,” Fathiaa Abdalla, UNHCR Kenya Country Representative emphasized.
FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich:
“In FIDE we really believe in inclusive sports and inclusive chess. We are happy that our joint initiative with UNHCR, LWF and Chess Kenya has attracted so much attention. We have to promote chess not just as a sport but as a tool to improve our society, to promote healthy habits and inspire self-improvement and self-growth in many people. A big part of our mission is to promote chess as an instrument to improve the social environment for thousands or millions of people. We have been doing quite a few things already including projects like Chess for Freedom, Chess for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, we ran the Online Olympiad for people with disabilities with 400 people participating. Now we are launching this huge project for refugees. We welcome all of you to our chess family! Yesterday we discussed the possibility of having a team of refugees at the next Chess Olympiad in Moscow. Hopefully, some of you can come to Moscow next year to participate in this event along with 200 other national federations.”
LWF representative Julius Arawan:
“I’d like to say that I appreciate what was done by FIDE and UNHCR to support youth in Kakuma and engage it in chess activities. We know that playing chess is very important for youth, for developing critical thinking and for future careers. We will continue to work with FIDE and UNHCR to ensure that this activity is realized and youth is involved in it.”
Chess Kenya President Benard Wanjala:
“I am very happy to be a part of this historic launch of the Chess for Protection project. Kenya has the second biggest refugee camp and the third biggest slum in the world. This creates very uncomfortable living conditions for youth and children who lack resources and opportunities to follow their life dreams. This is not just about chess, it’s about giving dreams to children. Chess Kenya is very proud to be a part of this initiative.”
FIDE Managing Director Dana Reizniece-Ozola:
“I hope that this project will bring fruits not only to refugees themselves but will also be a great satisfaction for us, the people involved in it. There’s strong evidence that chess structures the brains of people. If they regularly go for it, it increases their analytical skills, self-esteem and the understanding between the cause and the consequence. That is something that is instrumental in the lives of all human beings, but probably particularly in the lives of people in vulnerable situations. We will start with training the youth and kids in approximately 40 schools. In parallel, we will focus on the empowerment of young females and girls. Life skills training program will be carried out in the schools for girls where they will have chances to meet inspirational chess players and ladies representing other professions. They will be sharing their experiences and life stories and giving examples of how to reach success even if your starting point is not the best.”
FIDE Vice President and the mastermind of Chess for Protection project Anastasia Sorokina:
“I kept an idea of this project for a long time as I believe with all my heart that chess gives a lot of extra opportunities in your life. Chess also gives you extra skills, it teaches you not only how to win, but also how to survive when you lose. All of them are really life skills. That’s why I think this project is especially important for people who lost their homes or are living in new places where they are trying to adopt and live in a new community. Chess makes people united. I shared this idea with FIDE Managing Director Dana Reizniece-Ozola, and I am happy she supported it. I would like to thak all the UNHCR team for their support, we are very happy to work together and to get this project on board.”
The official ceremony was followed by a simultaneous exhibition by FIDE Managing Director Dana Reizniece-Ozola for four members of Kakuma Chess Club. One of the players Adoor Mayen Deng shared his experience after the game:
“I am a South Sudanese refugee in Kakuma-Kenya. I started playing chess in 2002 and now I am Turkana North/Kakuma champion 2021. I have participated in regional and local tournaments especially those held in East African countries such as Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan. I won a silver medal for 2nd place in the South Sudan National chess championship in 2014. I am very happy about this opportunity to exercise and explore our talents. Today is my first time to play with a Woman Grandmaster, and I am very satisfied with a draw.”
The arbiter at the simultaneous exhibition was IA Shohreh Bayat, who also has refugee status. In 2020 she had to flee her country after images showing her without a headscarf appeared online. As she would face a lashing if she returned to Iran, Shohreh sought asylum in the UK.
IA Shohreh Bayat:
“When you are seeking asylum, you need a lot of time for the government to check your papers and do an interview. This time can be very frustrating for people, sometimes it takes one or two years especially because of the COVID. During this time chess has many benefits: you can play online and it also helps you to find friends and that’s a perfect way to cope with difficulties.”
About Chess for Protection project
The Chess for Protection program aims to raise awareness about the availability of chess as a sport including the opportunities it presents to talented players. It will also provide training to improve players’ knowledge and life skills which will, in turn, be passed to others. Linkages and networks will also be created with a larger chess community in Kenya and globally for greater development of chess in the camp and opportunities externally for professional development of players.
Many young women and girls find it difficult to meaningfully engage in education and extra-curricular activities due to negative cultural norms that often prevent them from accessing opportunities equally. The Chess for Kakuma and Kalobeyei People project includes activities of the Girl Club Project such as meeting and communicating with successful women, reading and discussing books, painting workshops and many others.
Chess has been predominantly embraced among the youth from Kakuma and currently, 180 club members are actively participating in chess. Building on existing chess activities, the International Chess Federation will further bring in the experience and expertise of chess programs to contribute to the protection and well-being of refugee youth and adolescents and elevate chess to the level of key activities through which young people are engaged.
The project is expected to directly benefit 1,600 learners, with various levels of chess proficiency through online presentations, provision of play materials and equipment, training and mentorship. Further, it is estimated that another 800 individuals from various parts of the camp community at large will be affected indirectly in various positive ways.