Refugee Chess Team Triumphs at National Competition

Refugee students from Kakuma Refugee Schools in Kenya have emerged victorious at the National Youth and Cadets Chess Championship, making a remarkable debut on the national stage. The team, led by Project Lead Alek Daniel and chaperoned by Mary Lapalor journeyed from Kakuma to compete against over 5,000 players from across the country, and their talent shone brightly.


Ngong Atem, a young chess prodigy emerged victorious in the Under-18 category, winning an impressive 7 ½ points out of 8 points in 8 games. His teammate, Akech Awai, also displayed exceptional skills, winning 5 points out of 8 points for the 8 games played, showcasing the depth of chess talent within the Kakuma Refugee Schools.


"We never knew chess could be so serious!" Mary remarked upon witnessing the capacity and structure of the competition. This years’ competition saw 800 schools participate, a 100% increase compared to 2023, Chess Kenya attributed this to their many initiatives across the country promoting the sport.


Atem's win serves as a powerful symbol showing potential that can be nurtured even in challenging circumstances.


The impact of the Kakuma and Kalobeyei Chess Project, spearheaded by Daniel, extends far beyond trophies. "This is a very big and crucial reflection for our project that is making a positive impact on the youth in the camp," Daniel shared. Chess, with its strategic thinking and problem-solving elements, equips these young players with valuable life skills that transcend the game board.


The project's success stems from a collaborative effort. Daniel expressed gratitude to FIDE, the international chess federation, for recognizing the project's potential and for creating opportunities for these young minds. He also commended Chess Kenya, UNHCR, and the Kenyan government for their support.


"We hope, with the ongoing project activities, to enable refugee children to realize their potential with Chess," Daniel said. Chess offers more than just competition; it can be a pathway to careers and a brighter future. This sentiment was echoed by Bernard Wanjala, President of Chess Kenya.


"It was great to host the team from Kakuma,” Wanjala said, acknowledging the project as those among the cornerstone of Chess Kenya's initiatives. "One of our dreams was to expose the children, give them a chance to interact with other Kenyans."


The impact went beyond participation. "They have come and conquered, going back with a proud smile," Wanjala remarked, referencing Atem's championship win. This success story transcends the individual; it represents a victory for the entire Kakuma team and the project that empowered them.


The project's transformative power resonated in Wanjala's words. "These children who have been given a big stage that they never believed they could be on," he said. "They have made their dreams come true." The Kakuma and Kalobeyei Chess Project is more than just Chess; it's about opportunity, hope, and the chance to rewrite one's destiny.


The Kakuma Refugee Schools Chess Team's triumph at the National Chess Competition is a celebration of talent, resilience, and the power of opportunity. It is a story that transcends the Chess board, inspiring not only the Kakuma community but also the world, demonstrating the potential that can blossom when given a chance.