GM Maurice Ashley recently spent time in South Africa touring the schools and promoting chess. He was able to leave the students with some valuable life lessons. The host was David Berman who runs the program, “Chess for Change”. Ashley sent the following letter:
I just came back from a deeply humbling yet hopeful experience in Cape Town, South Africa. I spent 8 days there giving talks to young people (both Black and White), playing in a simul, playing in a few blindfold games, doing radio interviews and meeting the chess community. As you know, Cape Town features some very strong players (IM Kenny Solomons, for one). It was a thrill to be soaked with love and appreciation for my role in chess.
I also got to visit the infamous Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent so many years. To see his prison cell and to move on the grounds on which he and other political prisoners planned the future of South African is mind-blowing. That his spirit was never broken despite spending 30 years of his life incarcerated for his beliefs is a truly astounding concept. The tour guides made it feel as though I was in church revisiting the spirit of trials and tribulations to cleanse the soul. I can’t imagine the strength it took to endure those difficult times. I can only feel blessed to live the life I’ve lived.
I was in Cape Town under the auspices of a charity organization called Chess for Change. Created by a White South African named David Berman, the non-profit looks to bring the many benefits of chess to the children of South Africa. David not only talks the talk, but he walks to walk. It’s great to have truly sincere people who love chess and who put their time, energy and personal resources to see that all kids have opportunities to develop and excel. Chess for Change has been around for 3 years and is serving about 4,000 young people, a number that will be sure to grow exponentially in the next few years.
What I really like is that the organization is not wasting its time trying to make GMs. They are about giving kids hope and opportunity to develop themselves as people and critical thinkers first. If these young people then take the skills they learn from chess and go into business, education, sports, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Of course, a few will become strong chess players, but it’s the bigger number that Chess for Change is and should be focused on.
I look forward to returning to Africa again and again. I have to say I felt very much at home.