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New Orleans Police Homicide Detective featured in Susan Fleet's New Orleans crime thriller series




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November 10, 2012 12:15      

permalink   A tale of two cities and two courageous girls 

Ugandan slum girl stuns chess elite!


How's that for a headline? At the age of 15 Phiona Mutesi (left in photo) became Uganda's top female chess player.

She lives in Katwe, an ugly slum in Kampala, Uganda. No sewers, no sanitation, flies everywhere, an unbearable stench.

Every day Phiona rises at 5 AM to begin a 2-hour trek to fill a jug with potable drinking water. In Katwe, 50 percent of teen girls are mothers.

There are few clocks or calendars. Why bother? Each day is as miserable as the last.

A game of survival

When Phiona was 3, her father died of AIDS. A sister died soon afterwards. Her mother sold food at a street market to support the family. When Phiona was 9, Robert Katende, a young Ugandan employed by the US charity Sports Outreach Institute, began teaching chess to a few Katwe children, among them Phiona's brother. One day she followed him to his lesson.

"I had never heard of chess," she said, "but I liked how the pieces looked."

Determined to learn how to play, she practiced against her brother every night. Within a year she was beating "Coach Robert." He was impressed. "I could see how she planned many moves ahead."

This didn't surprise him.

"Kids in slums are used to thinking 'How will I get through the day," he said. "They are survivors, and chess is a game of survival."

A new school and a new life

 In 2007, Phiona, 11, entered her first tournament. Some of her opponents were twice her age. She won the competition. Thanks to her talent for chess, she was sent to a boarding school and got the opportunity to travel. In 2009, she and two boys from Katwe flew to South Sudan for a children's tournament. The trip was an eye opener: she had never been to an airport, had her own room with a bed, or ordered food from a menu. Phiona won all her games and the girls' title. The boys also went undefeated and together they won the team prize.

In 2010, she competed in the World Chess Olympiad in Siberia as Uganda's #2 player, the only girl in a team of university students and working women. She didn't prevail, but at the year-end tournament in Kampala, she beat her Olympiad teammates and took first prize, 130 pounds.

"My mother couldn't believe it," she said. "We used the money to buy beds and mattresses, so we don't have to sleep on the floor anymore!"

Phiona's days at the boarding school are long and arduous, but far better than the conditions at home. In 2012 she began a new school year. "I am doing well," she said. "In the future I want to become a doctor."

Read more about this remarkable girl at ...  Game of her life: Espn.com   

Phiona Mutesi leads chess revolution from slums

The girl who stood up to the Taliban

Malala Yousufzai grew up believing that girls should get an education. In Pakistan that isn't easy, but her father, Zia Yousufzai, a forward-thinking educator, owns and operates a chain of schools in the Swat valley, including the one Malala attended in Mingora.

In 2007, the Taliban rose to power in the Swat valley. Militants forced men to grow beards, forced women to wear burquas or stay in their homes. They banned girls' education and blew up many schools, most of them for girls.

At the age of 11, Malala began writing a blog about this for the BBC. 

"I wanted to scream and shout and tell the whole world what we were going through. But the Taliban would have killed me, my father, my whole family. So I chose to write with a different name." Her blog was nominated for several awards.

Speaking out spawns a cowardly attack

After the Pakistani military pushed the Taliban out of the Swat valley in 2009, Malala became an outspoken advocate for girls' education and often appeared in the media. In 2011 she received Pakistan's National Peace Award for her bravery in speaking out. And speaking up for girls.

But in October 2012, as Malala rode home in a school van with her female classmates, two hooded Taliban militants stopped the van and boarded it. "Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all."

No one spoke. But the man recognized her, shot her in the head and wounded two of her classmates. One of them was Malala's friend, Shazia, who said: "The man kept pointing guns at us. I froze [remembering the old days of] headless bodies, the slaughtering of rivals, the grotesque violence." 

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the shooting. "Let this be a lesson," he said. After her family ignored several warnings, they decided to kill her in a carefully planned attack.

Malala was promoting "Western thinking," he said, adding that if she survived, they would try to kill her again.

International outrage

Horrified Pakistanis condemned the attack and held rallies in Mingora, Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. An international outcry arose. Across the world, newspapers, TV shows and social media voiced their disgust and expressed admiration for the girl who dared to speak out against the Taliban while others kept silent.

Pakistan's top military officer, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani called Malala "an icon of courage and hope." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said US officials "strongly condemned the barbaric and cowardly" shooting, and offered assistance to Malala. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it a "heinous and cowardly act."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Malala. "She was shot by extremists who don't want girls to have an education, don't want girls to speak for themselves, and don't want girls to become leaders."

Surgery and an uncertain future

Doctors at a Pakistani military hospital in Peshawar removed a bullet that entered her head and lodged in her neck. Then she was flown to a hospital in Rawalpindi near Pakistani army headquarters. After being heavily sedated for several days, she was able to move her legs and hands, but doctors couldn't say whether she suffered permanent brain damage.

Two days after the shooting, Malala's father reopened her school "to overcome the fear among our students due to the attack." Although police were stationed at the school, many students stayed away. One ninth grade student said, "We have gathered here to pray for Malala. This shows we will keep her mission going." 

The girl who wasn't afraid


In consultation with Malala's family, the decision was made to fly her to the UK for "intensive neuro rehabilitation" and to protect her from follow-up attacks threatened by the Taliban. The Pakistani government will pay for her treatment. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, "The UK stands with Pakistan in its fight against terrorism. Malala's bravery in standing up for the right of girls in Pakistan to get an education is an example to us all."

I can't say it any better than that, but maybe you can. Leave a comment and tell me what you think of these two brave girls! I'd love to hear from you. NOPD homicide detective Frank Renzi signing off.

Sources-Malala: "Pakistani girl's shooting sparks widespread rage," AP writers Rebecca Santana and Riaz Khan, Boston Globe 10/11/12; Yahoo news: various stories: 10/12 through 10/15;  New York Times

 General   comments (3)

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[ Posted by Carolyn, November 11, 2012 14:27 ]
     Thanks for sharing these two remarkable stories!
Although women in the US still experience wage discrimination and sexual harassment, most of us have running water and we are not being shot for trying to go to school.
Keep ranting, Frank! The public must be kept informed.

[ Posted by admin, November 11, 2012 15:55 ]
     Thanks for the comment! My thoughts exactly. Women in the US still have problems, but nothing like the obstacles that women and girls face in other countries.

[ Posted by Barbara Colley, November 12, 2012 8:23 ]
     OUTRAGIOUS! May God bless her and keep her and her family safe from these evil people.

[ Posted by admin, November 12, 2012 8:33 ]
     Thanks for the comment. I agree. Outrageous. What I want to know is ... why isn't this story still in the news? CNN is too busy covering the latest sex scandal ...

[ Posted by Micki, December 10, 2012 18:29 ]
     As a proud mom of 2 sons in the USAF, i can say that we live in the land of the free, BECAUSE of the brave. The courage of people who are willing to stand for what they believe even if they end up standing alone....seeing stories like these gives me hope that someday...they will also live free...because they were brave!

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