Kings of Lagos: Children learn chess to seek escape from Nigeria's slums

An inspiring story of poor Nigerian children from the waterside shantytown of Majidun neighbourhood of Lagos, as they learn chess in hopes of leaving behind their current lives. Let's take a look:

Children of the slums

Lagos, is a waterside shanty town, just across the lagoon from the mansions and towering office blocks of Nigeria's commercial capital. Children of this slum, don't have a very bright future, their lives generally start and end with the slum they live in.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Ray of hope

Intently focused on plastic mats printed with chess boards, a dozen children crowd around plastic tables in the Majidun neighbourhood of Lagos. The children thoughtfully move pieces on the board as supervisors observe their moves. The children hope that the cunning and strategy they learn on the chess board will help them make the leap out of their homes in the slum.

(Photograph:Reuters)

To live here is hard

"To live here is hard," said Michael Omoyele, who at 14 has already dealt with food scarcity and worked to feed himself. Inspired by "Queen of Katwe", the 2016 film about a girl who escapes poverty in a Kenyan slum through chess, Omoyele hopes chess will help him, too.

"On the chess board you work hard in order to win, and from winning chess games I believe I can do better in becoming a champion and being wealthy also."

(Photograph:Reuters)

Nigerian education is in crisis

Babatunde Onakoya, 26, founded Chess in Slums Africa in 2018. 

Chess aided his rise from his own deprived childhood in Lagos. Onakoya said he was driven by a conviction that Nigerian education is in crisis, with many children either out of school or not learning what he sees as useful survival skills.

(Photograph:Reuters)

New generation of Intellectuals

"This is why we are teaching them chess, as a way to raise a new generation of intellectuals, people … who will be curious enough to question everything, who will be curious enough to innovate", said Babatunde Onakoya.

(Photograph:Reuters)

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