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Kings of Lagos: children learn chess to seek escape from Nigeria's slums

SportMay 06, 2021 12:00
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© Reuters.

By Angela Ukomadu
LAGOS, May 6 (Reuters) - A dozen children crowd around
plastic tables in the Majidun neighbourhood of Lagos. Intently
focused on plastic mats printed with chess boards, the children
thoughtfully move pieces on the board as supervisors observe
their moves.
The waterside shanty town is just across the lagoon from the
mansions and towering office blocks of Nigeria's commercial
capital. They hope the cunning and strategy they learn on the
chess board will help them make the leap out of their homes in
the slum.
"To live here is hard," said Michael Omoyele, who at 14 has
already dealt with food scarcity and worked to feed himself.
Inspired by "Queen of Katwe", the 2016 film about a girl who
escapes poverty in a Kenyan slum through chess, Omoyele hopes
chess will help him, too.
"On the chess board you work hard in order to win, and from
winning chess games I believe I can do better in becoming a
champion and being wealthy also."
Omoyele practises at home, in a room with watermarked
concrete walls and peeling blue paint and the din of crying
children in the background.
Babatunde Onakoya, 26, founded Chess in Slums Africa in
2018. Chess aided his rise from his own deprived childhood in
Lagos. Onakoya said he was driven by a conviction that Nigerian
education is in crisis, with many children either out of school
or not learning what he sees as useful survival skills.
He now spends his free time plying crowded alleyways, tinged
with the smell of burning trash and generator fuel, in the hope
that teaching kids chess can build a better future for all of
Nigeria.
"This is why we are teaching them chess, as a way to raise a
new generation of intellectuals, people … who will be curious
enough to question everything, who will be curious enough to
innovate," he said.

(Writing by Libby George, editing by Estelle Shirbon)

Kings of Lagos: children learn chess to seek escape from Nigeria's slums
 

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