Tunde Onakoya: Launching Stars Through Chess
Tunde Onakoya is the founder of Chess in Slums Africa, an initiative that aims to empower young ones in impoverished communities by using the game of chess. Tunde grew up in one of those communities with little hope of having a better life but chess helped him find a way out. Now he hopes to help more kids find opportunities to improve their lives through chess.
What motivated you to begin Chess in Slums Africa?
I grew up in the slums of Ikorodu, but learning chess at a young age saved me. Sometime in 2018, I went back to where I grew up and saw that nothing had changed. There were still children on the streets without access to education. In a rapidly evolving world, I feared that those children were never going to get the opportunity to live out their true potential. I started thinking about what I could do in my own capacity. At the time I was already a National Master of chess, so I and my friends took a few chess boards back to the community and started teaching the children chess as a way to get them off the streets, engage their minds and teach them skills that would expose them to opportunities beyond the confines of their environment. That was how it all started (lol).
Do you feel a weight of responsibility to give every kid in the slum an opportunity to a better life?
In the beginning, Yes. It was impossible to detach myself from the daily struggles of children that live in the slums who have the worst experience of poverty.
Now I understand that it’s a collective responsibility and with the right partnerships and collaborations, we can put sustainable structures in place and create an inclusive system that will support all children irrespective of their background. Every child counts, every child matters.
The story of Ferdinand, the Chess Champion with Cerebral palsy, is inspiring. How did his chess journey begin?
We launched a Pilot phase program in Makoko recently to expand our reach. That was where we discovered Ferdinand. He was being bullied by the other children from the community because of the way he walked. We introduced him to the gift of chess and within a few minutes; he outperformed everyone else. He couldn’t speak an English word because of his speech impairment but he showed an unparalleled understanding of the game like we had never seen before. He was a gifted child.
After two weeks of training, we held a tournament for the children and Ferdinand won the junior category with a phenomenal performance. His story inspired people with disabilities around the globe and he also got to play a game against the Governor of Lagos state which helped change the fortunes of him and his family.
How is Chess in Slums Africa improving the lives of kids in Slum communities?
Chess in Slums Africa is using the game of chess as a framework to give mentorship and education to children living in impoverished communities.
We have trained over 200 children and got lifelong scholarships for 20 of them. We believe every child has the capacity for greatness irrespective of their background.
Why did you choose the Majidun and Makoko communities? Also, how were you able to convince the community to accept Chess in Slums Africa?
Majidun because it was close to home for me and Makoko because it is the largest floating slum in the world with a large population of vulnerable children without access to education.
At first, the reception was difficult because they didn’t understand how chess was going to put food on their table. We engaged the community leaders first to make them understand the value of what we’re bringing to the children and they would, in turn, speak to the parents to allow their wards to take part in our programs.
What do you think is the future for Chess in Slums Africa?
The vision for Chess in Slums Africa is to have an academy in every slum community across the continent, to raise a new generation of intellectuals with the right skills needed to transform Africa.
What life philosophy do you live by?
Ubuntu. It is an African philosophy that emphasises ‘being self through others’. Ubuntu is the true essence of being human and how we can’t individually perform at our greatest capacity if all links within a circle aren’t at their best. That I can’t be all I can be except you’re all you can be, because the better you are, the better I am.