Chess to school: Meet the 22-year-old giving lifeline to children in Nigerian slums
By Victor Akuma
Emmanuel Adekunle was 16 when he started battling depression because his parents could not meet up with some of his educational and personal needs.
Living in the slums of Ikorodu in Lagos state made things even more difficult for him. His environment was one characterised by several challenges. From poor hygiene to limited opportunities, his community was anything but desirable.
But he was determined to brace the odds.
Adekunle later developed an interest in playing chess, and it did not take long before he mastered the game.
For him at the time, chess was a way to deal with the pressure of street life and other negative thoughts.
With time, however, it became a passion. His commitment to reading chess books helped boost his knowledge of the game.
“The interest in the chess game came because of my experience as a little child. I came from a neighbourhood that people refer to as ghetto,” he told CRISPNG.
“When I was 16, I saw chess for the first time and I loved it. I learnt the game of chess and it taught me that I could be great no matter my background.
“It helps me in making good decisions and I apply chess rules to my everyday life.”
In 2022, Adekunle, now 22, came through with a noble idea — to establish a chess foundation to inspire young children.
This informed the establishment of Chess to School foundation to help other children like him who are faced with challenges.
“In 2022 (last year), I started chess at school. Chess to school foundation was created so that we can develop the talents of kids in local areas and communities,” he added.
Chess training and practice support the development of higher-order thinking skills like problem-solving, decision-making, critical thinking, planning, and creative thinking.
Aside from serving as an escape route from the street lifestyle, Adekunle said Chess to School foundation was established to teach teenagers between the ages of 8-16 years how to take good decisions, avoid peer pressure, find happiness, and fight depression as well as anxiety.
“We believe that any kid can learn chess and be good at it. We focus our target on kids that need to grow mentally, psychologically and emotionally,” he said.
Adekunle often scouts for teenagers on the streets of Ikorodu who have been victims of circumstances of maltreatment as well as children with no opportunity to go to school and gathers them in a classroom where he teaches them the game of chess.
He also has a session where he shows them video clips while reading and explaining some chess technicalities to them — all at no cost.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), about 20 million children are out-of-school in Nigeria. Many such children are found in slums around the country.
But Chess to School is giving such children a lifeline. The foundation now has students who have completely left the streets and are competing with other chess clubs across Lagos.
Chess to School has received international commendation and a chess set from “Thegiftofchess”, an organisation based in New York. It has also continued to enjoy relative support locally.
One of the challenges of the foundation is getting more chess sets to meet its growing needs.
Join @karibufound as they bring The Gift of Chess to the Kisenyi Bus Terminal in Kampala. Play is open to everyone from 3:00 – 6:00 pm. Feel free to come join to help coach or if you are interested in learning. The only future worth dreaming of is one that includes all of us ♟ pic.twitter.com/30rh4GKKCE
— The Gift of Chess (@thegiftofchess) February 27, 2023
Adekunle also said it is difficult to convince some of the street boys to learn chess and sustain their interest in it.
The 22-year-old expressed optimism that with more support, his students will be able to compete on the international stage.
You can find out more about Chess to School here.
Below are photos of children partaking in a chess class organised by the foundation: