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DANIEL SEBAKIJJE
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CHESS A RESPITE FOR THE DISABLED IN UGANDA

Kampala, Uganda Social January 9 @ 10:51am

It is a hot Wednesday afternoon in Kamwokya, a Kampala Suburb and after having my lunch meal I decide to maraud the city in search of fresh air.

For some unsound reason, my intuition directs me to Mengo another Kampala suburb.

As one loyal to my instincts, I concur and Mengo it is.

As I drive through the Nakulabye round about on the road leading to Ndejje university’s Kampala campus, I notice a yellow sign post hardly 200m before the university’s main gate.

At a closer look, it reads “Kampala School for the Disabled.”

I had used this route for years, but never had I noticed that there was a school for the unfortunate kind, I prefer to call them ‘the differently abled’.

The journalist in me is intrigued to find out more about what exactly takes place in here, so I branch.

An open yellow gate with words of hope to the inhabitants of the place is what welcomes me as I enter and park in this huge abandoned yard.

Clean as the word, on the face of it, its hard to imagine that the kind that lives here is far from the usual.

This is a dumping place for young innocent boys and girls whose families have opted to do away with them because of their God-given disposition.

With no one to welcome me, I take the liberty to orient my self around this 'mystery' place.

I am attracted by the little activity that appears to be going on in a long building overlooking the main entrance.

As I draw closer, I notice it is a dinning hall, packed with hundreds of kids savoring the famous schools’ delicacy, Posho and boiled beans.
I let my self into the dinning.

Before I know it, young boys and girls are jumping onto my trousers from all directions, bellowing words I can barely pick. With in minutes, I was engulfed by tens of disabled kids, trying to find out who this stranger was and what he had brought for them.

As most fought their way for a piece of me, nearby on one of the dinning tables, there was a boy locked in his wheelchair, with semi functional fours, laboring to get his blue plastic plate to his mouth as he tries to swallow some soup to accompany the block of Posho he has just swallowed.

My heart almost crashed with pity. This was perhaps the most touching thing I had seen in a while.

As I drew closer to help with the plate, a voice mumbled from behind, “don’t, he will manage,”.

To my surprise, It turned out that it was the famous chess coach coach Robert Katende, what on earth he is doing here! we shall find out later.

With a smile on his face Katende says: “Wasswa can manage, you don’t need to feel bad, he actually doesn’t like it when people feel pity for him, even when he is playing chess, he wants to move the pieces by himself.”

At that moment I interrupted him and asked: “did you say chess?”

“You mean this young man knows how to play chess?”

Katende is an award winning chess coach, who has trained several national and international chess champions. He is the man behind the famous “queen of Katwe” Phiona Mutesi. He runs a program with the school that teaches these “differently abled kids” how to play this board game.

Whatever crashed Wasswa Sharif Mbazira’s limbs, sharpened his brains.

Wasswa am told is the undisputed king of the chess board here. His geniuses on the board led him to his first flight in May 2017 when he solely carried the Uganda flag at the world disabled chess championships in the united states where am told he won three out of 12 games.

This intrigues me the more. We cross to the training room adjacent the mess, coach Robert pairs his boys up on different boards and the action begins.

Wasswa is on the central board with his nemesis John Mwesigye who has no hands. Mwesigye v Wasswa is the biggest rivalry in this school am told as each is convinced that they are better than the other.

Mwesigye uses his lips to move the pieces on the board, Wasswa struggles with his semi limbs, as their coach watches from the side.

If them knowing the sport is surprising then what is unusual is these kids’ acumen on the board.

These disabled lads are not the best chess players I have seen, but they are geniuses in their own right.

Unfortunately for Wasswa, Mwesigye check mates him after a tight end game.

Like a baby who has just been stripped of his favorite doll, with a woeful face, Wasswa slouches against the back of his ageing wheelchair, cogitating on what could have gone wrong.

The poor man is mourning a loss to his biggest rival, a feeling he isn’t accustomed to.

Most of the kids here have been disregarded by their biological families and through chess, Robert hopes to recondition these kids and restore the long lost hope.

The 17-year-old Wasswa Sharif was abandoned in his hapless state with five other younger siblings by their mother after their dad reached the end of his road three years ago.

As his mum vagabonds within Arab countries, his little boy is slowly finding love again, in a board game.

At a point when disappearing from the face of the earth seemed the only appealing option for him, his guardian angel sent a messenger in Robert Katende who introduced him to chess, that has since become his companion.

Sharif tells me that chess is the fulcrum on which his life spins.

“I thank God for bringing Robert Katende to me.

Chess is the reason I am alive now, I even went to America because of this game. I want to also become a grand master and a national champion one day”, says Sharif in his shaky teen voice.

With the roughs now refined, and a new found motivation to life, Robert Katende says that Sharif and other differently abled boys are ready to take on the world, the plan now is to register their team in the national chess league.

“I think these boys have what it takes to beat even the well abled ones in the league, I want to register them now”

On my way out, I notice a wall scribbled with graffiti.

One statement spoke to my soul: “There is ability in disability.”
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