BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
FOR a child growing in an obscure rural setting to speak about or just being familiar with an intricate sport such as chess is remarkable on its own.
And to be able to play and excel in the sport is obviously an icing on the cake.
Four young girls from Mudavanhu Primary School deep in the thickets of Chivhu, about 185 km south of Harare have defied the odds and excelled at the National Schools Chess Championships, qualifying for the African Youth Chess Championships set for Namibia in a fortnight.
The quartet of Natasha Choko (12), Ruramai Tapambwa (10), Grace Zvarehwa (8) and Lynne Chidanire helped Mudavanhu Primary School beat all other schools in the country to win the National Schools Chess Championships.
The girls, who have since earned the moniker “Queens of Chivhu”, after the Hollywood film “Queen of Katwe” which portrays the life of Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a young girl living in the Uganda slum of Katwe who discovers her uncanny talent for chess and rises to become one of her nation’s top players.
The Mudavanhu team does not possess chess boards or chess timers. They play on cheap home-made cardboard chess boards. But coach Godknows Dembure had to use what he had to create a formidable team.
As expected the four, three of whom are orphans, failed to raise the money required to travel to Namibia and Dembure’s pleas on social media captured the attention of the public who then raised funds for the chess queens to make the dream trip.
A GoFundMe initiative started by a well-wisher Tatenda Tapiwa Tavaziva organised the initiative that saw people from all walks of live donating towards the girls’ cause.
A number of prominent people such as renowned lawyer and politician Fadzai Mahere also joined the drive to put together funds for the Chivhu chess geniuses.
It was Dembure’s appeal for assistance on social media that thrust Tavaziva, who would have preferred to be anonymous, to do something.
“In desperation, the coach appealed on Twitter to prominent celebrities after the deadline for payment had passed and his plea caught my attention. But capturing attention for me wasn’t going to be enough. With numerous scams and fake news stories out there it was absolutely critical to conduct a needs assessment visit,” Tavaziva said.
“Upon visiting the school and finding out that three of the girls are orphans, one of them (Natasha) is the head of her household and her twin sister might be the second best Under 12 chess player in Zimbabwe but isn’t going due to lack of funds I just knew we needed to help. The moment I saw the pieces of paper they are using as chess boards I was convinced,” he said.
With the assistance of Miracle Mission Trust, Zimbabwe Chess Federation and other well-wishers, one standard chess clock and two chess sets for the girls were delivered to the school last Thursday.
At least 178 donors from across the world donated money towards the initial US 5315 which was raised inside 24 hours and by the time of going to the press US 6807 had been raised.
Other corporates such as the Vamara Group through its Sunrise brand donated one month grocery hampers to the girls, coach and school.
The food stuffs included sunrise instant breakfast porridge and sunrise sugar beans, flour, salt, mealie meal, popcorn and noodles.
“For these girls chess is their ticket out of poverty, chess is what puts them on the map, chess keeps them out of child marriages (which are a legitimate problem in the area) and child prostitution.
“We are looking for ways to make this an on-going relationship with the girls. They are incredible individuals and it would be sad if our communication with them ended after the tournament. We hope to play an integral role in their growth and development in the coming years,” Tavaziva said.
Natasha Choko is currently the Zimbabwe Under-12 chess champion and has never lost a game of chess in local tournaments while Watambwa and Zvarehwa are silver medallists.
About 40 children, among them the four from Chivhu qualified for the Africa Youth Championships and are set to represent the country at the continental stage.
Zimbabwe Chess Federation secretary general Clive Mphambela expressed delight following the uncovering of the chess prodigies from a disadvantaged rural community.
“This is good for chess in this country considering that these girls are coming from the rural areas. “We have a focused programme which seeks to identify talent in remote areas and we have a pilot project currently underway in Victoria Falls,” he said.
Mphambela reckons that the trip is not about results but the exposure that the children will get competing with players from other countries.
“A lot of them will be playing at that stage for the first time so we are interested in the experience they will get than winning medals.
“We are not going to put pressure on them. Another important lesson we have learnt is the model that was used to raise funds for the girls ad we will surely employ it in future,” he said.