Phiona Mutesi: Finding your passion

I am, as followers of this blog will know, a great fan of Sir Ken Robinson. I am always looking for stories of how people are able to discover the thing that brings out a real talent or ability from within them.

Yesterday evening I watched the new series of “So You Think You Can Dance” on BBC1. There were the usual stories that one finds from these shows of how someone went along to a dance school to accompany a friend or to meet girls and suddenly discovered that they had a real talent for dance. Their body reacted to music and they found that they could move with timing and grace that defied explanation other than they were “born to dance”.

Many years ago, when I was just starting out as a teacher, I used  visit the car mechanics department in the large secondary school that I was teaching in. I found pupils who, in my maths class were unable to sit still and found a good use of their time in discovering new and interesting ways to disrupt the lesson. Here in the motor mechanics section they were immersed in taking an engine apart. They did not scream and shout, they did not thrown anything. Their teachers would interact with them with a quiet word or two and then let them get on with it.

I realise now that many of these pupils had found something within them that made what they were doing seem worthwhile and interesting. Ut was a far cry from me trying to teach them fractions!

A few weeks ago received a Tweet that had a link to an interesting article in “The Guardian”. The article was called “Ugandan girl, Phiona Mutesi leads chess revolution from the slums“. The article was about a 15 year old Ugandan girl whose background was one of poverty and loss in Katwe, a vast slum “where streams of sewage crisscross the dirt paths.”

Her brother went along to some chess training that was put on by Robert Katende, a 28 year old who worked for the U.S. charity Sports Outreach Institute, who had already tried football as a means to get through to the children and teenagers of the Ugandan slums who had been forced by poverty to give up on their schooling.

Having tried football he tried Chess as a means to get through to the non-footballers. Phiona went along with her brother and it was one of those things that Sir Ken talks about so eloquently in his many talks and in his book “The Element“. I will not go into the full story as you can read this in the article… but suffice to say this young lady has got better and better at the game that she “took to” and has now had the chance to represent her country at International tournaments.

As John Saunders, who wrote the article says, after an analysis of a game that she played in a tournament:

“So much for the moves on the board, but objective analysis does not tell the whole story. Phiona’s present playing standard is that of a modest but competent club player but, placed in the context of her environmental and educational deprivation, her achievement in reaching such a level has been awe-inspiring. Lacking the huge advantages enjoyed by players of her age in countries with a tradition and easy access to educational material, her journey from unimaginable poverty to respectability ranks as truly phenomenal.”

That last sentence says it all. The finding of one’s passion can and does produce inspirational results. We owe it to ourselves as a planet to get our children to discover their passion and to have the chance to develop it…… it may well prove to be our salvation!

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One thought on “Phiona Mutesi: Finding your passion

  1. What a wonderful example of finding a passion! It is a glorious moment when you see a child light up over something that others are just willing to explore. And so remarkable when it is an unexpected something – like this was! I so love that she originally just “went along” with her brother. Serendipity is the most delightful gift of all!

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