Phiona Mutesi is a young woman from Africa and a true underdog. She is from one of the poorest towns, Katwe, in one of the poorest countries in the world, Uganda. She must walk hours to fill a jug with drinking water. She lives with her family in a small 10 foot by 10 foot hut, with no windows, that is the size of a shed. There is no sewage in her home or her town and the air smells awful. Her family has had to move many times because their house was crumbling or their belongings were stolen.
At the age of 9, Phiona had to stop going to school as her family could not afford to send her. At that time, she was introduced to a chess program run by the Sports Outreach Institute, that taught her how to play chess.
Only a few years later, Phiona is the youngest person ever to win the African chess championship. She has also won the African Women’s Junior Chess Championship of Uganda many times.
As she told ESPN, “When I first saw chess, I thought, What could make all these kids so silent? Then I watched them play the game and get happy and excited, and I wanted a chance to be that happy.”
Phiona taught herself the game through trial and error. She lost badly many times when she started, but she kept going. She received training by a coach who was only a novice at the sport himself. Phiona made herself into a champion based on her own passion, grit and perseverance.
Phiona’s dream is to one day become a Grandmaster and build a house for her mother outside the town of Katwe, so that she will not have to move again. With a book being written about her life (“The Queen of Katwe”) and Disney creating a movie about her incredible story, her dream of a new house may just come true.
Watch this video to learn more about Phiona’s inspiring story and courage:
- Learn more about Phiona on Wikipedia
- Read about the book on Phiona’s life, The Queen of Katwe, and the author that created it, Tim Crothers
- Check out other great InspireMyKids stories about grit and perseverance
Topics for Discussion:
- What has made a real difference for Phiona in her life?
- What inspired Phiona to want to play chess and become a champion?
- What traits does Phiona exhibit?
- Do you have a dream of something you want to do? Remember the Phiona’s story and find a way to make it happen!
- Do you want to learn how to play chess? Check out ChessKid.com!
- If you love to play chess, you can use it to help raise money for charity just like Gabby and Garrett did at chess4charity!
- Here is a link to a Critical Reading Skills worksheet that you can use for elementary school students.
- Here is a link to a Critical Reading Skills worksheet that you can use for middle school students.