Zim’s young chess queens checkmate early marriages, poverty – Newsday Zimbabwe
Grace Zvarebwa (10)
As the international chess community reels from a major cheating dispute, in a bare classroom in a small rural town in Zimbabwe, Grace Zvarebwa (10) sits on an overturned bucket, crouching on a cardboard board, thinking about his next move.
Moments later, she checkmates her opponent’s king to win the match.
Grace is training for a pan-African school chess tournament in Liberia, where she hopes to represent her club, the Queens of Chivhu.
She is one of its star players. Since she started the sport three years ago, she has won 15 medals – 10 gold, three silver and two bronze – in tournaments across the country.
“I saw other girls playing chess and decided to take up the challenge,” says Grace, who lives in Chivhu with her three siblings and her parents.
The family practices subsistence agriculture.
“Some of the money I made from tournaments helped my parents buy stationery, clothes and pay for my school fees.”
The Queens of Chivhu Club was started by Godknows Dembure, a teacher who wanted to “uplift the young girls of this community” and improve their critical thinking and math skills.
The name of the club is inspired by the Hollywood Disney film titled Queen of Katwe, which tells the story of a 10-year-old chess prodigy from a poor family in Uganda.
Dembure was introduced to the game while training to become a teacher.
“I realized that the problems of young girls – like unwanted pregnancies and child marriages – force them to drop out of school early,” he says.
“I seek to change that through chess, which empowers these girls to express themselves, builds their confidence to speak up, and protects them from male predators in the villages.
“I started playing chess for fun until I started playing tournaments and winning a few games. After seeing that people were going far with chess, I introduced it to girls.
It was a bold decision.
In Zimbabwe, chess is considered an elite sport, played in the best private or urban schools, not in rural areas like Chivhu.
But the queens of Chivhu have triumphed in the game, entering and winning local, national and international competitions.
Thanks to crowdfunding efforts, the queens of Chivhu were able to participate in the 2019 African Schools Individual Chess Championship in Namibia.
Grace just missed out on medals, finishing fourth in her age group.
She hopes to go for gold at this year’s tournament in Liberia in December – funds permitting.
Dembure says finding the money to attend competitions is a challenge.
Parents in the region are struggling to pay for their children’s education.
The club used Gofundme for their trip to Namibia, but the year before, despite winning the national championships in Zimbabwe, they couldn’t afford to go to the African tournament in Egypt.
Likewise, last year the players of the team qualified for the African Youth Chess Championship in Ghana but were unable to attend due to financial difficulties.
“I just hope we get to Liberia,” he says.
Thabo Elisha of the Zimbabwe Chess Federation says money is a problem, but adds: “Although the lack of funding in chess – not just in Zimbabwe but across Africa – is a setback, it is possible for some to earn a living from this.”
That’s exactly what Zimbabweans Rodwell Makoto and Robert Gwaze, two international masters, are doing.
Grace hopes to follow in their footsteps.
“I want to be a nurse and a professional chess player,” she says.
“I want to compete internationally in countries like the UK and the US.”
– The Guardian