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Sep 6, 2007

Jungle chess camp has kids motivated

Story PictureDuring July and August this newscast was chock-a-block with our usual run of summer camp stories, covering activities ranging from art to football. That series of reports usually ends when students return to school in September… but with classes postponed for a week by Hurricane Felix we’re able to squeeze in just one more piece. It’s a story by our colleague Brent Toombs and involves perhaps the most unusual summer camp we’ve ever had the privilege to visit.

Brent Toombs, Reporting
Sixteen children in the Stann Creek District are setting out on a journey. One that will take them far away from their various towns and villages, to a strange new land, where noble nights roam on horseback and kings and queens hold court.

King Arnold
“It’s good to be the king”

King Arnold and Queen Gwendolyn rule over the Sibun kingdom, where for the next five days, these young Belizeans have come to learn all about the game of chess.

King Arnold
“My queen and I have long awaited your visit and now that you’re here, we’ll be watching you guys and just monitoring you to see if we can leave our kingdom in your hands.”

While Arnold the First may be the monarch, the real power behind the throne rests with Ella Anderson. A career educator, Anderson moved to New York from her native Russia, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and for nearly a decade, she worked in some of the toughest intercity schools, running a program that used chess as a learning tool.

Ella Baron Anderson, Dir., Bz. Nat’l Youth Chess Foundation
“They were the worst schools in the neighbourhood, where nobody even wants to go to teach. You come into the classroom where literally you see the chairs flying in the air because the kids just have absolutely no control of their emotions, their anger management. We come to teach chess and all of a sudden, something changes.”

So when Anderson moved to Belize two and a half years ago, she began looking for ways to get children in this country to take up the sport she loves, chess.

Ella Baron Anderson
“It’s such a small country that if I will put enough of my energy and if I will find enough people who will be as passionate about chess as I am, who will understand all the benefits that the chess brings, we will be able to turn the whole new generation of kids into chess players.”

Anderson’s efforts have come to fruition in the form of the Sibun Kingdom Chess Camp. For five weeks this summer, over one hundred children from all corners of Belize, spent five days each living in a converted castle on the banks of the Sibun River, learning not only the game of chess but developing skills that will help them with self-esteem and confidence.

Ella Baron Anderson
“Besides the chess as a game, you can start noticing all these other things that’s happening in the kids mind. They start feeling good about themselves. As they start playing chess, it also starts from scratch. They don’t know anything about the game and all of a sudden you can see them as the day progresses. They started feeling and they go ‘Oh, I won the game!’ For them, maybe this is the first time they succeeded in something.”

Many of these campers have never played the game before. To a beginner, chess can seem overwhelmingly difficult. However, Anderson breaks it down to its simplest form.

Ella Baron Anderson
[To Students] “During the pawn game, the only piece that moves is the pawn, because we don’t have any other pieces on the board. Why?—because it’s the same thing as basketball, before you play full court, you have to learn how to deal with the ball right.”

“We can break it down in such small pieces that even the slowest kid will have a chance to succeed, at a different pace; but he will learn slowly slowly from the single concept ‘what a straight line is’ to actually how to play the game.”

[To Students] “So after she moves, take your time, don’t move anything. Just think, is there anything I can capture?”

Assisting at the chess camp are a number of volunteers coaches and counsellors. Most have a personal interest in the game, such as Frank Tu of Belmopan, one of Belize’s top ranked players, or Peace Corp volunteer Micah Williams, who is working to promote chess in the Stann Creek District.

Micah Williams, Peace Corps Volunteer
“I brought some of the kids that I worked with already in Dangriga to this chess camp, and then when we go back, the 4H clubs that I have started already will start chess clubs with those same kids.”

But for U.B. student Irianie Pech, her attraction top the camp has little to do with the game itself.

Irianie Pech, U.B. Student/ Mentor
“Even though I’m not a chess player, I really got motivated by the cause, the organisation; I really love what they are doing. My role ranges from different stages, from being the one in charge of coordinating different activities in the morning to the afternoon, to helping a sick child or just giving a hug to a child who is homesick.”

During the week, not all of the activities take place indoors, or even involve chessboards. There are plenty of other things to keep the kids busy, such as badminton, football, swimming and even horseback riding, but according to Anderson, there is a reason for everything.

Ella Baron Anderson
“A lot of times, when we start doing a different activity which is scary for the kids, they’re scared. They’re afraid of the horses, the horses are big and they never did it before, right. The kids started feeling scared and all of a sudden, we who were the chess coaches before, we said ‘of course you feel scared’. In stead of denying that feeling we will go on the human level, ‘of course you feel that way’, but that’s how you felt five days ago when you had all these pieces in front of you and you had no idea how to play it. And you were afraid to play some of the kids who were much stronger than you were, this is the same thing; you will overcome it, you will feel good about yourselves.”

Of course, everything always comes back to the game of chess, and by the end of the five days, these campers have a pretty good handle on the game; you could even say that a once obscure sport has come to life.

Kyra Villafranco
“Sometimes chjess teach you more about how you listen, directions and how to be better at more things.”

Carlos Valtoro
“When I reach home I will tell my family I want to come here again.”

Arrie Gentle
“I’m going straight to buy the chessboard and the chess pieces at the store, and just go home, tell my mother about the trip and start to play it.”

But like summer vacation itself, all too soon, camp is over, and it’s time for goodbye hugs. And with the new school year just beginning, Anderson and her colleagues hope that the lessons learned at the Sibun Kingdom will translate to the real world.

Micah Williams
“The hope is that they will take away life skills, leadership, teamwork, respect. Those types of skills that you learn from the discipline that chess teaches you that really are what you need to succeed in general.”

The Belize National Youth Camp Foundation plans to continue to promote the game by holding a number of mini-camps and tournaments throughout the year. It is hoped that the Sibun Kingdom will be able to host even more campers next summer. The majority of costs for the camp were underwritten by Ian Anderson’s Cave’s Branch Adventure Company.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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1 Response for “Jungle chess camp has kids motivated”

  1. Arrie Gentle says:

    I really enjoyed staying at Sibun Lodge. I learnt a lot about responsibility and most of all; how to pla chess. Everyone should be like a sponge wanting to soke up and gain knowledge for it will take you far in life.

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