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
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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
Surgery and an uncertain future
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.
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
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