- Now, at only 12 years, Wambui has represented the country in various prestigious chess competitions both locally and internationally in over 10 countries globally.
- Wambui’s transformative mission began on her 10th birthday when she visited a children’s home in Gatundu and discovered a latent eagerness among the children to learn chess.
- The Gift of Chess is a charitable organization transforming lives through our universal language of chess.
At the age of five, Bernice Wambui, a young prodigy hailing from Nairobi, Kenya, first encountered the intricate world of chess.
Her journey began in a new school where various extracurricular activities were showcased, and she had to pick one; an inexplicable allure led her to the chess club.
Now, at only 12 years, Wambui has represented the country in various prestigious chess competitions both locally and internationally in over 10 countries globally.
Locally, she has emerged as the U-10 Girls winner of the Nairobi Schools Chess Kenya League 2020 and the U-12 Girls winner of the second edition of the East Africa Online Youth Championships.
Internationally, she has represented Kenya at the Africa Youth Chess Championships in Ghana in 2021 and the Online Africa Individual School Chess Championships, among others.
When Wambui expressed interest in chess, Phylis Ngigi, her mother, who was unfamiliar with the game, initially hesitated due to traditional gender norms associated with checkers.
Growing up, she associated checkers with men, creating an initial bias against board games for women.
Therefore, she suggested alternative pursuits like guitar or swimming for her daughter.
Recognizing Wambui’s genuine enthusiasm, the mother set aside preconceived notions and wholeheartedly supported her daughter’s burgeoning passion for chess.
Through strategic intervention, she observed the limitations of the overwhelmed chess club coach and proactively hired a personal coach for Wambui, ensuring tailored, one-on-one training for improvement.
To further enhance Wambui’s skills, she facilitated her entry into Lighthouse, a private chess club offering a diverse community of players across all age groups and skill levels.
Now, Wambui acknowledges that she is at an advanced level as a chess player. Nonetheless, Wambui’s achievements extend beyond her chessboard conquests.
The gift of chess
Chess, renowned for honing critical thinking, problem-solving and strategic planning skills, has become a gift from Wambui to her peers.
Her dedication to spreading the “Gift of Chess” in an ambassadorial role has captured the attention of enthusiasts across the globe.
“My favorite piece is the knight; I like how it surprises someone when they are not expecting it,” said Wambui, adding that the game in itself has taught her a lot.
Kenya has been working towards expanding chess through advocacy programs such as Chess-in-schools. However, the humanitarian spirit of Wambui shows the game’s merits from a gamer’s perspective.
Chess-in-Kenya was started by Fred Sagwe, a teacher who walked 165km advocating for Chess for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which led to a debate in parliament in 2022.
Beyond the board
Wambui’s transformative mission began on her 10th birthday when she visited a children’s home in Gatundu and discovered a latent eagerness among the children to learn chess.
“Later, I saw a Nigerian humanitarian called Tunde Onakoya and my mother and I reached out to him online.
Onakoya introduced us to Russel Makofsky, one of the directors from the Gift of Chess, a US-based charitable organization that distributes free chess boards around the world,” stated Wambui.
And so her mission of empowering and mentoring young chess lovers began.
“Russel then introduced me to Her Move Next, a global girl’s club that mentors girls in chess,” she added.
Presently, she has introduced over 25 girls in Kenya who are being coached every weekend by ‘Her Move Next’ club coaches.
The girls have also benefitted from the chess kids’ accounts, where they can self-tutor online, practice online, and do other chess-related assignments.
The connection with Her Move Next also enabled Wambui to spearhead the distribution of 1000 chess sets to schools and homes in impoverished areas, reaching as far as Samburu and “Bangladesh” in Mombasa.
Gift of Chess, a forefront organization in chess empowerment, orchestrated a highly successful chess and mentorship session on Saturday, November 11, 2023.
The transformative event focused on empowering over 100 children hailing from four distinct children’s homes: Muthiga Hope Center, Familia Moja, Ruiru Children’s Home, and Happy Life Children’s Home.
At its core, the initiative aimed to promote chess as a sport, highlights the manifold benefits of engaging in chess, and commemorate the excellence of children from the participating homes.
Beyond the chessboard, the event sought to instill crucial life skills through both chess instruction and mentorship, benefiting the less privileged children in the homes.
Mr. Daven Prashar, a distinguished friend of the Gift of Chess organization, stated that the most basic thing to do for the younger generation is to provide basic tools like mentorship.
“We have a basic duty to help kids with the basic minimum. We can’t fix every problem in the world but just by providing basic tools they will figure the rest out by themselves,” said Mr. Prashar.
He added that sponsors of different activities should look for the simplest way to solve problems.
“Just focus on the problem solving and let the people figure the game out,” he further commented.
In attendance, Wambui termed this initiative as necessary as children get to realize their talent and advance in life.
“It feels really good helping all these kids and as we interact we get to learn their talents,” commented Wambui.
She also disclosed that she has traveled to around 10 countries, courtesy of her skills in this sport, thus recommending mentorship for those who have a similar talent.
Her mother, Phyllis Ngigi, who is an official at the Gift of Chess organization, noted that the game has helped Wambui improve in her studies.
“Chess helps in critical thinking and training kids in the game of chess is helping them to acquire creativity; it also keeps them busy and helps them improve in their education,” said Wambui’s mother.
The event saw the convergence of children from diverse backgrounds, underscoring the universal appeal of chess. It embodied the sentiment that ‘chess knows no boundaries; it transcends language, age, and social status.”
The organization eagerly anticipates perpetuating its mission to empower young minds through the dynamic and enriching game of chess.
About The Gift of Chess Org
The Gift of Chess is a charitable organization transforming lives through our universal language of chess.
The organization was launched in early 2021 and aims to donate 1 million chess sets globally by 2030, using chess as its simple tool to expand opportunities for all.
The Gift of Chess’s three major global initiatives include educational outreach, prison outreach, and refugee outreach.
To date, Gift of Chess has produced over 75,000 chess sets for global distribution, having donated 1,000 plus chess sets to Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, USA, Seychelles, South Sudan, Somalia, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Namibia, Lesotho and Rwanda.
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Each partner country has an assigned ambassador who leads the organization’s micro-distribution efforts (5 chess set gifts) across schools, orphanages, prisons, refugee camps, community centers, and chess clubs.