Ugandan girl’s life transformed by chess

Phiona Mutesi (left) meets with young chess players in Valencia Sunday at a screening of the Disney movie, Queen of Katwe, based on her inspirational life story, lifted out of poverty by winning chess competitions. Courtesy photo by Michel Stallings.

A Ugandan girl who transformed her life through chess, and whose story was told in a Disney film screened in Valencia Sunday, had many local moms in tears, according to one woman who attended the special screening.

Phiona Mutesi, now a young woman, first came to the Santa Clarita Valley in December 2012 as a guest of the Trinity Classical Academy Chess Club in Valencia.

On Sunday, following a special select screening of the film, Queen of Katwe, Mutesi answered questions from a packed audience of 260.

“It was fantastic,” said Michel Stallings, whose husband Jay helped introduce Mutesi to young chess players in the Santa Clarita Valley four years ago. Jay Stallings is the director of the Valencia-based California Youth Chess League.

“It was a really good message for all our girls,” said Michel Stallings. “So many moms, afterwards, had tears in their eyes.”

Mutesi shared her inspirational life story of survival and fortitude with SCV chess players and Trinity Classical Academy during her 2012 visit.

Growing up in grew up in the slums outside of Kampala, capital of Uganda, with her mother and brother, Mutesi struggled daily with hunger, she told a small gathering of SCV chess enthusiasts back in 2012.

One day, her brother mentioned that he had found a place where he could eat a bowl of porridge every day. But, he kept the secret to himself.

Each day, Mutesi would watch her brother leave her family’s impoverished home.

One day, she followed him to a sports program run by a man named Robert Katende who introduced chess to many of the children, one of them Mutesi.

After she demonstrated she could win any chess challenge set before her, Katenda and others arranged for her to compete nationally and internationally.

As a chess champion, Mutesi transformed her life, finding a way to attend college and raise her family out of poverty.

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