Image Source: https://www.chess.com/
When Ferdinand Maumo (10) walked inside the chess club in the slum of Makoko, his peers started making fun of him. Born with cerebral palsy, Ferdinand is a quiet boy whose condition and poor background deprived him of an education, friends and the care he needed to treat his illness. But to coach Babatunde Onakoya, Ferdinand immediately looked like a natural chess talent.
“He was looking through the window as the other children started playing and he desperately wanted to join them,” remembered Onakoya, who runs the non-profit organization Chess in Slums Africa in partnership with Chesskid.com. “I saw him in the fish market when I first arrived in Makoko at the end of April, but I was very surprised when he showed up at the club.”
Talent Has No Boundaries
Onakoya’s program was supposed to reach 20 children and their families from Nigeria’s biggest slum, but the unexpected extra attendee immediately earned his place onboard.
Ferdinand made his first moves on a stilt house in the labyrinthine slum, not far from the Makoko market where his mother sells the catch of the day. As he started mastering the game, he quickly forgot the smell of smoked fish and the distant sound of boatmen carrying passengers across the lagoon or venturing to the high sea.
“I gave him a chance to learn with the other kids and got the shock of a lifetime: in less than twenty minutes he could move the pieces and he was able to solve complex geometrical exercises on the board,” remembered the coach.
A Hard Life in the “African Venice”
Chess immediately became a life changing opportunity for Ferdinand, otherwise destined to a marginalized future in an overcrowded neighborhood where scholastic education is a luxury and children learn to swim, row and fish at a tender age. His condition won’t allow him to follow on the footsteps of his father, who is a fisherman. And his father can’t afford to attend to his treatment either.
On May 22, less than a month after learning the game, Ferdinand won the junior section of a local tournament on full score. His new mates learned to respect him on the board and cherish him as a friend. They carried the trophy on a boat to his stilt house, to his utter excitement and to the parents’ awe and disbelief
“I Cried Joyful Tears”
“At first I was sceptical, because he kept going to the chess club,” remembered Ferdinand’s proud mom Jesuwame. “But then I thought that it’s better for him to play chess than to roam around the streets.”
When Ferdinand played his first tournament, she was so excited that she wore her best outfit for the occasion and went to support him. “I cried joyful tears on that day, as I saw that my child was no longer the joke of the community, but had become a small local hero.”
“He is more grounded at home and he’s even teaching chess to his little brother. The other mothers of Makoko come to congratulate him. Now I can hope that he will become something in life,” she concluded.
A Better Future for Ferdinand
For the people of Makoko, Ferdinand has become a superstar. For coach Babatunde, “this is a unique opportunity to showcase how helpful chess can be to help people in need.” What’s more, Ferdinand’s story was an eye opener for the people of the Lagos Lagoon, many of whom developed a whole new perspective on disabilities and access to education.
Ferdinand’s inspiring story came to the attention of the Governor of the Lagos State Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, who met with him last Thursday and played a ceremonial game with the little prodigy.
About Chess In Slums-Africa:
Chess in Slums Africa is a volunteer driven non-profit organization which aims to transform impoverished communities and empower its young ones by using the game of chess as a framework to teach academic skills, critical thinking, and a lifelong appreciation for learning.
In partnership with the non-profit, Chess.com provides lifetime Diamond Memberships for the children and coaches of CIS-A. They also have access to top blogger status, affiliate support, super admin status for their club, affiliate status, fundraisers, collaborations with top streamers, and more.
To follow and support Chess in Slums Africa, you can check out @chessinslums on Twitter and Instagram, or visit Ferdinand’s page on GoFundMe.