Chances are, you already know about Phiona Mutesi – AKA the Queen of Katwe! Phiona’s journey as a chess prodigy inspired the 2016 Disney movie, but her story didn’t stop when the credits rolled. To this day, she continues to be an inspiration for girls everywhere!
Phiona’s upbringing — like many kids in Katwe, Uganda — was far from easy. Her father passed away from complications with AIDS, and her sister passed shortly after from unknown causes. Her mother worked long hours to provide for her family, but there wasn’t enough left over to afford school fees. As a result, Phiona had to leave school when she was nine.
Despite the odds stacked against her, she found her calling. The same year she left school, Phiona joined a chess program run by the Sports Outreach Institute where she quickly gained recognition as a chess prodigy. By 2012, she was a three-time junior girls’ champion of Uganda!
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, her and Ivy Amoko earned Woman Candidate Master titles. This made them the first titled female chess players in Uganda. She’s also won multiple categories in Uganda’s National Junior Chess Championships.
Last year, Phiona began college at Northwest University in the United States and she’s already accomplished a lot in her freshman year! She competed on her school’s chess team in the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championships and, even though it was the team’s first time competing, they swept the competition in the Top Small College Team category!
Phiona’s determined to create opportunities for other girls to thrive. In 2013, she was invited to the Women of the World Summit and awarded a grant for her work — which she used to promote girls’ access to education and chess in Uganda. She also founded a girls-only chess clinic, where girls can learn how to play the game and hear about the importance of education!
Phiona’s success is proof that when girls are given access to the resources they need to thrive, they can achieve anything.