Phiona’s story is told in the book “The Queen of Katwe” (Scribner, paperback released October 2013) which will soon be made into a movie by Disney. A young girl in the slums of Kampala was only looking for some food when she followed her brother to a shack where a Ugandan missionary was teaching kids chess. While Phiona couldn’t read or write, she learned the game quickly, showed promise in her style of play and has since become one of her nation’s top chess players.

Last week Phiona and coach Robert presented to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. The Gates Foundation, which focuses on education, health and global development, was introduced to Phiona during a Women in the World Summit in New York in April 2013. Phiona received an award at the Summit and was able to pay her own school fees for the year as well as to set aside funds for college. In December she used a portion to host a 5-day chess clinic for girls from the 5 slum areas around Kampala. The funds provided were to cover the costs for 200 girls; they had 460 attend!

“Because acquiring proficiency in chess does not require mastery of language, a little girl who couldn’t read was able to demonstrate her innate intelligence and a future leader for her nation is being developed from a community that offers little hope for girls and women,” said Sunil Weeramantry, executive director of the National Scholastic Chess Foundation. “It is a remarkable story that we hope will show our students the importance of education and perseverance in overcoming any adversity.”

Phiona and her coach will speak at school assemblies at Greenwich Academy on Thursday, May 2, Richard J. Bailey School in Greenburgh on Friday, May 2 and at Bronxville Elementary and Middle Schools on Monday, May 5. On Saturday, May 3, they will speak at the opening of the NSCF chess tournament at Mamaroneck Avenue School in White Plains.

The appearances are part of a 33-day tour across America that is raising funds for US programs as well as to help build a chess academy that will be part of a new education center being constructed in Kampala.

Today, Phiona is almost 18; she is working to finish school and go to university to become a doctor. Phiona competed in Olympic chess events in Siberia and Istanbul, and qualified to play in Norway this summer. Wishing to open the doors of opportunity for other girls and women, Phiona has quickly progressed from a 9-year old girl in search of a bowl of porridge, from student to teacher and from child to mentor; she is a true example of hope in Uganda and of the power of chess in education.

See photos from Phiona’s visit by scrolling to the bottom on our Community Chess gallery page.