How Tunde Onakoya Is Changing The Lives of Slum Kids Using Chess

Tunde Onakoya

 

” Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”—John F. Kennedy 

In a continent where a lot of societal problems abound—many of them properly accentuated in the slums—the intervention of a citizen to better the lives of others simply cannot be ignored. This is why this article will detail the exploits of Tunde Onakoya, the founder of Chess In Slums.

Following in the wise words of Kennedy, Tunde Onakoya took it upon himself to change the lives of young ones. He is using chess, a board game, to show those in the slums of Lagos what they could achieve. He is on a mission to produce several Queens of Katwe in Nigeria. Before we take a look at the Chess In Slums initiative, let us take a brief look into the brain behind the idea, Mr. Tunde Onakoya.

Who Is Tunde Onakoya?

Tunde Onakoya
Tunde Onakoya conceived a life-changing dream with Chess In Slums.
Tunde Onakoya was born in 1994. Like the young Nigerians he is trying to rescue, he grew up in a slum—Ikorodu’s Isale Odo village. Like many other youngsters growing up in slums, he didn’t have much. His family was too impoverished to take him to secondary school when he completed primary education, so he stayed at home for two years while his mother worked as a housekeeper at Yintab College, Ikorodu, to save money for his education.

 

 

He learned to play chess at a barbershop during that time. He would go on to become Nigeria’s number 13 chess player. Tunde had more than a humble background and had his fair struggles growing up. That was until he met the lovely game of chess, which turned his fortunes around. As of today, Onakoya is rated 2165 in standard chess and 1908 in blitz chess. He currently ranks at number 30 in the top Nigerian chess players list and 26875th in the world.

Chess In Slums: How It All Started

Tunde Onakoya giving out snacks to children (Photo credit: Creatives Around Us)
Tunde Onakoya giving out snacks to children (Photo credit: Creatives Around Us)

Tunde Onakoya resolved to alter the lives of children in slums one piece at a time by using chess to empower them. He started the Chess In Slums program to practically show the underprivileged youngsters living in the slums that chess is a pathway out of the hood. He said,

“I wanted to offer them something to feel positive about. I grew fixated on the idea. I’d look up things like ‘how chess can transform your life’ on Google and re-watch Queen of Katwe.”

He took a few chess boards, went to Majidun, Lagos, with his friends, and taught roughly five kids how to play chess. In a short time, he had almost a hundred children under his care. He proposed to the community’s Baale that he teach chess to the youngsters on weekends. He also volunteered to teach language and math, as well as provide motivational speeches on occasion.

Catching Fish In The Waters of Makoko

At the moment, Tunde and his team are doing splendidly well. They have about 200 kids they are teaching how to play chess and about 20 children on full scholarship in and out of the country. One of such students is Odunayo Williams, national under 10 female chess champion in Nigeria. Odunayo Williams, homeless before Chess In Slums’ intervention, became the launchpad for expansion into other parts of Lagos.

Although Odunayo Williams was a milestone, the real miracle was with Ferdinand Jesuwame. Residents of Lagos, also known as Lagosians, will testify that Makoko is one of the nation’s worst slums. Built on the water, Makoko’s situation is dire, as their water is filled with excreta, dirt, and the general outlook of a dirty drainage gutter. Basically, Makoko is Nigeria’s Nazareth—don’t expect anything good from there.

 

 

Makoko: Nigeria's floating slum goes digital - CNN
Floating homes, bleak futures, but something good can come out of Nigeria’s Nazareth.
Don’t tell that to Tunde and his team, though. Chess In Slum identified the children of Makoko as their first point of outreach, teaching 9 to 12-year-olds the game. Documenting this journey became the launchpad for Tunde Onakoya to garner national fame. After a tournament called “Chess to Slum” championship, a 10-year-old sufferer of cerebral palsy, Ferdinand Jesuwame, emerged as the winner. Having won the competition, he was invited to play the game of chess against the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwoolu. Which he won anyway.

Conquering Oshodi Underbridge

Ferdinand and many others have begun their schooling under the aegis of Ches In Slum. Having started a new wave of playing chess in Makoko, Tunde turns his sights on Oshodi (while grooming of the Makoko children continues in the background). Tunde Onakoya set out to Oshodi, the den of petty thieves, drug addicts, and society’s castaway.

Tunde and his team set out, initially to earn the trust of the street urchins. Having done that, he then set out to introduce his mission: teaching chess. He met an initial rebuff of his ideas before the Oshodi boys began to warm up to the message—having already fallen in love with the messenger.

 

 

Having overcome the initial struggles, Tunde then set out to teach mental maths and, later on, chess.

Having taught the boys chess, they organized a competition which was won by the 18-year-old bus conductor, Adeoye Fawaz.

Redefining the Reality of Slum Kids

Beyond teaching and learning chess, Tunde’s primary mission is to show the inhabitants of these slums what is possible. He sells them dreams that are real enough to make them abandon a life of thuggery, drugs, and inactivity. He shows them that beyond the excitement, living in a slum is just a dark, imaginary tunnel that leads to a dead end.

In fulfilling this mission, Tunde Onakoya and Chess In Slums took his pupils on TV media rounds, excursions to phone stores to purchase phones for each, and trips to exotic places culminating in a visit to Banana Island, the abode of Nigeria’s creme de la creme. In Banana Island, the pupils faced off with Chess pros in a five-star hotel.

 

 

Why property value in Lagos Island slumps as Banana Island remains most expensive destination - Businessday NG
Parts of Banana Island, Lagos.
With more projects to come, Tunde Onakoya isn’t backing down anytime soon.

Worldwide Support For Tunde Onakoya

Ever since Tunde Onakoya’s initiative became mainstream on Nigerian Twitter, he has received massive amounts of goodwill. In January 2021, he set a $20,000 target for a GoFundMe. It was hit by April. The campaign has garnered close to $100,000 since November.

In November, Nigerian celebrities donated massively to the cause. Nigerian music superstar, Fireboy DML, donated a million naira to the cause. Others, both in Nigerian and overseas, have also donated huge sums. Across the ocean, a match between the Chess In Slums youngins and a team of University of California chess players ended in a 3-3 draw. A BBC short documentary also aired on the service.

How Tunde Onakoya Is Managing Fame And Responsibility

Tunde Onakoya admits that his newfound fame comes with lots of responsibility. In an interview with the Perpetual Chess Podcast, he mentions that he is aware of the responsibility attached to his standing. More importantly, when put to him that the 2020 FemCo Bitcoin donation scandal may occur with Chess In Slums, he stressed his full commitment to accountability.

The Road Ahead

Tunde Onakoya has set his sights on a Pan-African expansion. He is doing everything he can to reach out to more kids, to save them, to lift them from the doldrums of slum life to the zenith of excellence. In a recent interview with Zikoko, he said,

“Now we’re at a place where we’re trying to expand and impact more kids because I believe that chess can change lives in impoverished communities in Africa. Not all of them will become chess champions, but they will learn how to think and their horizons will expand beyond their small communities. They won’t easily be pawns for politicians to disrupt elections for ₦1,500 ($3.65). We’ve secured deals with international chess organizations like chess.com and ChessKid and also received funding from Venture Garden Group. In three years, we’ve impacted the lives of 300 children, with 30 of them on lifelong scholarships.”

 

 

Conclusion

In a continent bedeviled by government dysfunction and state collapse, not all heroes wear capes. Some go about bringing change in little acts that bring future rewards. Slowly but surely, Africa will reach the promise land someday.

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