Ugandan Teen Turns Life Around With Chess

Neither able to read nor write, Ugandan teenager, Phiona Mutesi, lived in crippling poverty. She and her family ate what they found on the streets, sometimes surviving merely on the will to live. She lost her father at age 3 to AIDS and her mother fears that she is HIV positive. According to CNN, Mutesi thought "the life [she was living was lived by everyone]." That was until A chance encounter with a chess coach changed her reality in a way she never thought possible.

The game began a remarkable journey that proves she is "the ultimate underdog," according to her biographer, Tim Crothers. Her story has caught enough attention and captured enough hearts to inspire a book and even a new film by Disney.

It all began in 2005 with a bowl of porridge. "I was sleeping on the streets, and you couldn't have anything to eat on the streets," Mutesi said. That's when she decided to learn chess from a missionary and civil war refugee, Robert Katende. Katende rewarded bowls of porridge to those who showed up to his lessons. Mutesi had herself and her brother to feed, so she needed to try even though she had never heard of the game before.

Katende said the game parallels the skills needed to survive in a slum:

"It teaches you how to assess, how to make decisions, obstructive thinking, forecast[ing], endurance, problem solving, and looking at challenges as an opportunity in all cases -- and possibly not giving up. The discipline, the patience ... anything to do with life, you can get it in that game." 

Mutesi returned after her first lesson, and kept returning until she became well-versed. Eventually she became so good that the world took notice, making her story the viral news item it is today.

Read more of Mutesi's story in the CNN report by Josh Levvs.

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