Chess in Slums
FactsDocumentary in development, 100 min, 2024-25
Chess has helped the charismatic Nigerian chess master Tunde Onakoya (*1994) to leave his past in the slums of Lagos behind. Now he is turning his experiences into a humanitarian project: He teaches chess to children from the slums, shows them that there is a spiritual world in life besides worrying about the next day, and thus opens up unimagined perspectives for them.
This is the story of the film "Chess in Slums", which will be released in cinemas worldwide. We welcome supporters and co-producers.
Directed by Jan Schmidt-Garre
Produced by Marieke Schroeder
Nigerian chess master Tunde Onakoya comes from one of the huge slums of Lagos. As a child, he saw an old board with strange wooden pieces at a barbershop that fascinated him. He asked the barber to let him play with it. He could do that with pleasure, the barber said, but, unfortunately, he did not know the rules of this game. Tunde did not rest until the barber found a distant relative who had a vague idea of the rules of this strange game.
In Lagos, the talented boy from the slum was noticed and invited to play with older children. After a short time, he had beaten them all. Tunde Onakoya became a chess champion of Nigeria and participated in international tournaments. He learned English, graduated from high school and was able to support his family with his trophy money. He decided to turn his experience into a humanitarian project and launched Chess in Slums Africa.
Tunde found like-minded people with whom he invited children from the slums to learn chess. They explained to the suspicious parents that they would also give the children good food. This convinced most of them. The chess schools produced an astonishing number of good players. But even the less gifted children discovered that there was a spiritual world beyond the everyday struggle for survival, which opened up new perspectives on life for them. They got to talk to children from other backgrounds and became more self-confident. Some of them now wanted to go to school. Tunde had clothes and suits tailored for the children from the small budget he acquired from donations. One boy is proudly looking at himself in the mirror: » Now I can become a lawyer! «
The film Chess in Slums tells this story from the beginning. At the same time, it portrays the charismatic Tunde Onakoya, who taught himself to play the piano as well, who participated in chess tournaments all over Africa until he decided to dedicate all his time to supporting children, and who is a rousing speaker.
Last but not least, the spectator himself will become a student of this great chess teacher. The game is not only to be addressed as a means of emancipating children from their underprivileged background, but in its very own beauty. It is no coincidence that it is this game that brings about such an amazing transformation in children.
Chess allows the player to transcend space and time. Any tablecloth can become a playing field, any salt shaker a rook or bishop. It doesn’t matter where I sit, what room the game is in, who is sitting across from me. I could also close my eyes and play only in my mind. As if a magic switch were flipped, the children enter another world where there is no poverty and no misery. Of course, they return to their world after the game. But they have had an experience that will stay with them, that teaches them to question the given circumstances and provides them with the strength for emancipation.
Cinematography: Constantin Campean
Produced in cooperation with Nitsche Holding
Tunde Onakoya at DLD conference, Munich 2024
Tunde Onakoya, founder of Chess in Slums Africa:
Recently, a video of me playing chess against 10 people simultaneously in Germany has been making rounds on the internet. This has brought a lot of attention to me as I have gained over 200k followers across social media from that one video. It has been a little overwhelming for me, but I think it presents a rare opportunity to share a profound lesson.
8 years ago, I quit playing chess professionally. I was a talented kid who had won a number of tournaments and had great dreams and aspirations to become a Grandmaster. I gave up along the line, partly because there was no way to finance this pursuit of personal glory and more importantly because I had found a deeper calling to use my love and knowledge of chess as a tool to empower children in poverty. I was 21years old at the time, so it seemed like such an unwise decision. But I took the road less travelled regardless and it has indeed made all the difference. This birthed the Chess in slums project that has given thousands of children society often overlooks a fighting chance.
So I say this to the young, the old, and the extraordinarily talented person reading this: each of you holds a unique talent or skill that sets you apart. When you use this talent solely for your ambitions, it brings you success and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, when you choose to share this gift with others, especially those who may never have the same opportunities, it transforms into something far more powerful: it becomes purpose.
I urge you today to look beyond personal success and envision how your talents, whether in the arts, science, music, eloquence, writing, teaching, tech, sports etc. can contribute to the greater good and give more people a sense of belonging.
While it may seem extraordinary that one man can play chess against 10 people at the same time, it does pale in comparison to the most significant moves I have ever made – which is dedicating my life and ideas to the service of others.
I don’t ever want to be remembered as the man who could beat 10 people at Chess, but rather as the man who helped children believe they could do great things from small places.
The true essence of our talents and gifts is realized not when we bask in the applause on stage, but when we use our stage to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.
So, Dreamer, know thyself. Explore your talents, hone it, nurture it and when the time is right, share it as a gift to the world. This is how our civilization has advanced, because men and women of great talent, knowledge and skill had the courage and nobility to share their gifts with others.
Not one of us can feel his duty done unless he can say that because he lived, something or someone upon earth has been made just a little better.
Keep going dreamer, I hope you never stop giving the world something new to believe in.
Follow and support our work at The Gift of Chess and Chess in Slums Africa