A Tweet sent out globally on Wednesday
* The charity distributes chess sets for free to leverage chess as a low-cost but high-impact catalyst for opportunity
* Its key initiatives include education, prison, and refugee outreach
* To date it has manufactured over 75,000 chess sets for global distribution
* The goal is to distribute 1 million chess sets by 2030
By Duncan Mlanjira
The Gift of Chess — a global sports charity that is transforming lives through its universal language of chess — is set to provide 1,000 chess sets (5 set gifts) across schools, prisons and centers in Malawi through Susan Namangale’s Dadaz Chess Academy.
A Tweet from The Gift of Chess announced: “Under the leadership of Susan Namangale @dadazchess, we are thrilled to announce a partnership withe Dadaz Chess Academy to help spread The Gift of Chess across Malawi.
On its website — shared on the International Chess Federation, FIDE — the charity explains that it distributes chess sets for free to leverage chess as a low-cost but high-impact catalyst for opportunity and its key initiatives include education, prison, and refugee outreach.
To date it has manufactured over 75,000 chess sets for global distribution, saying: “Our goal is to distribute 1 million chess sets by 2030.
“For some — opportunity means access to a college education, for many others — opportunity could mean access to a chess set,” says the charity.
Namangale — former Chess Association Malawi (CHESSAM) president — attended a Chess for Freedom conference in Chicago, US in her capacity as Zone 4.5 president but used her resources to participate and in turn the sacrifice earned her amazing networks including that of founder of The Gift of Chess, Russell Makofsky — whom she sat next to the during the conference.
“We had a long chat thereafter and agreed on this partnership as he took cognizance of Dadaz Academy initiative to enhance the chess in prison program in Malawi.”
At the conference she also made a presentation on the sport’s experiences in Malawian and challenges faced and that she launched a chess in prison program at Maula Prison last year.
Through her experience when she visited Cook County Sheriff, USA’s second largest prison — where she was accorded an honour of appreciating Chess in Prison program being initiated through Chess for Freedom — Namangale now has plans to extend it to other penitentiaries after the success of the initiative at Maula.
In an interview from Chicago last week, Namangale said Chess in Prison is “a great tool to improve the quality of life for prisoners as they prepare for liberation”.
“The chess players I saw in prison were so free mentally and we played some games with them,” she said. “It was such an amazing experience to see sports programs in prison as a true reflection of sports for all.
“Among the sports programs is the chess program and inmates participate in international online games. I came to learn so that we can get our prisoners to participate in the programs too though our challenges in Malawi Prisons are many.
“The chess in prison program at Maula Prison is doing very well and now I plan to replicate to other prisons as my plan is to see Malawi chess players in prison participate in an international online tournament later this year.”
She explained that she partnered with founder of Uthunthu Ministries, Caswell Mkanda, who implements prison activities including provision of food and skills development who are doing other services in prisons including skills development.
The Gift of Chess website explains that the process to initiate the charity began in March 2019 when a Nigerian refugee named Tanitoluwa Adewumi, who was living in a homeless shelter at the time, won the New York State Chess Championship, just a little over a year after learning the game.
“His success caught the attention of a New York Times columnist, and shortly after, Tani’s story went viral, touching the hearts of millions around the world,” said the website. “Thanks to an overwhelming outpouring of support, Tani’s family was able to move out of the shelter and into a home.”
Chess coach Russell Makofsky, founder of Impact Coaching Network, is reported to be one of the many people who got inspired by Tanitoluwa Adewumi’s story, saying his “enormous talent and potential became apparent to everyone thanks to chess, and the game proved itself of great value as an ultimate equalizer, a shared universal language that can help expand opportunities for all”.
When the pandemic hit New York in 2020, Makofsky decided to use chess for community building, giving everyone an opportunity to learn chess and benefit from the many life skills the game cultivates.
Partnering ChessKid, Impact Coaching Network provided a free account and virtual training lessons to every student at PS 42, composed mostly of working-class immigrant families in Chinatown. Chess helped keep them engaged while they were confined to their apartments.
Chess.com is quoted as saying within a few months, the school led the entire network in puzzles, lessons, and videos completed on the platform and that driven by the enthusiasm demonstrated by their students, the principal at the school asked coach Makofsky about the possibility of giving every kid their own physical chess set.
Makofsky managed to procure the sets from a friend, and he was left thinking: “Why not escalate this?” — thus The Gift of Chess was born in early 2021 with the goal of distributing 10,000 chess sets to public students across New York City.
“With children confined to their apartments and spending most of their time on screens, the organization hoped to rekindle their love for chess and allow families and friends to connect over a physical chessboard.
“Over the next few months, the organization raised money from members of the local chess community to support the purchase of the sets. In June, the 10,000 sets arrived in New York, and members of The Gift of Chess team visited schools around Manhattan and Brooklyn to distribute them.”
The report further said the initial board of the Gift of Chess included founders Russell Makofsky, Tyrone Davis III and Ian West, but has now been expanded to include Rochelle Ballantyne, Michael Shuman, Ryan Rodrigues, and Tunde Onakoya of ‘Chess in Slums’ in Nigeria.
In March, the Gift of Chess launched its first global initiative when its board member and president of the MIT Chess Club, Tyrone Davis III, travelled to Lagos with 500 chess sets in tow to distribute in partnership with Tunde and Chess in Slums.
Russ Makofsky is quoted as saying: “A bridge had been built between the slums of Lagos and a chess community in New York who deeply cared about spreading the game they loved and the fate of children halfway around the world.
“Tunde and Tyrone squeezed the 10 boxes of boards and pieces into Tunde’s truck and set off to distribute them and the next day, the two men visited Makoko, the world’s largest floating slum, where Chess in Slums had already established a strong presence.
“Tyrone brought 100 sets to three different schools there, where he had the opportunity to introduce some of the students to chess and play together and share tactics with others who were already familiar with the game.”
Over the coming months, in addition to expanding its youth education and global outreach efforts, The Gift of Chess announces that it has plans to officially launch its prison outreach and elderly outreach initiatives.
The organization hopes chess will offer prisoners a positive way to spend their free time, the chance to improve their decision-making skills, and ultimately aid in rehabilitating and reintegrating back into society.
For the elderly, the Gift of Chess believes the game can combat social isolation and loneliness and mitigate the effects of cognitive decline and dementia. The Gift of Chess has also recently launched a free chess training application available on both iOS and Android to connect its global community.
Dadaz Chess Academy was primarily initiated with a quest to groom prodigies all over the country to promote the sport at grassroots and help Malawi become a strong chess playing nation.
The Academy so far has 3 centres in Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Nkhotakota and it has big plans to reach out to the youths and make chess popular amongst school going children.
Namangale maintains that chess is an important tool to build strategic leaders of tomorow and an important tool for mindset change, which is an enabler in MW2063 development blueprint.
“To change the mindset, it needs people with critical and analytical thinking who see beyond status quo and make the right decisions — and chess is a tool for that,” she said.
Namangale wrote history in Malawi in 2018 when she became the first woman president of the sport and rewrote if by being the first female chess federation president in Africa.