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Friday, 08 August 2014 10:38

Breaking the Cycle through Chess

By | News

The Giving Circle Sets Up Chess Program for Students in Uganda

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The village of Kagoma in eastern Uganda is an area of extreme poverty. One of the poorest places in the country, residents earn their very modest incomes by working in sugarcane shambas. However, Saratoga’s The Giving Circle, a non-profit organization, is looking to break the cycle and give the children of Kagoma the opportunity to flourish outside of the sugarcane fields.

“It’s probably in the top 10 percent poorest villages on earth,” said Mark Bertrand, founder of The Giving Circle. “They work for slave wages, $8 a month. These people are called ‘the forgotten people’ by the Ugandans. Boys start cutting sugarcane by the age of 5…the only end to the cycle of slavery in this village is education.”

Through The Giving Circle’s primary school in Kagoma, the Kagoma Gate School, students are participating in a “MiniChess” project ran by the Kasparov Foundation, a South African-based mini-chess firm, and The Giving Circle.

Ann Fantauzzi is a retired teacher of 34 years with the Saratoga Springs School District who now spends her free time working with The Giving Circle. She said she got the idea to install the program at Kagoma Gate from watching the Women in the World Summit last year.

There, Fantauzzi met Phiona Mutesi, a 14-year-old chess prodigy from Uganda and her instructor, Robert Katende. She also met with Marisa van der Merwe, founder and owner of the MiniChess program in South Africa.

“I stayed for a week in South Africa looking at the program, seeing how it works, the year by year progress and I said, ‘This is exactly what our school needs,’” said Fantauzzi.  “She [Merwe] teaches it to 4 and 5-year-olds, she starts pre-primary in Africa. Knowing that our students had no schooling at all, we thought it would be perfect for them.”

The MiniChess program focuses on early childhood development, linking mathematics, science and life skills development through chess-related activities. Studies show the program develops and improves logical thinking, problem solving, creativity, planning skills, concentration, reading, and emotional maturity.

“We put the program in and Katende teaches the children,” said Fantauzzi. “He drives three or four hours a day, every week from Kampala to go to Kagoma Gate. This program is flourishing and the kids are blossoming into not only good students, good chess players, but they’re learning English and it’s only been a year and a half.”

Last May, six students from Kagoma Gate were invited to Kampala, Uganda to attend a banquet honoring world-renowned chess player, Garry Kasparov.  It was the first time they had the opportunity to leave the sugarcane plantation. They even got the chance to put their chess skills to the test and play against Kasparov. 

“Because of this school and because of education, they have a chance to be something other than slaves,” said Bertrand. “Little girls have a chance to be something other than child brides. Boys and girls have a chance to be something else.”

The Giving Circle is currently campaigning to raise funds to continue the chess program. To make a donation, please visit www.TheGivingCircle.org/Donate-Now.htm. 

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