With passports and chessboards in hand, six Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students and two chess teachers will travel 6,000 miles from home to Chorkor, a small fishing community in Accra, Ghana.
Arriving on March 30 from Chicago for a seven-day exchange, the visiting students will teach and play chess and learn about the Ghanaian culture from their counterparts in Ghana.
The students are a part of the Ghana-Chicago Chess Exchange, a partnership that started online during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools were closed to create cross-cultural relationships between students in Ghana and Chicago.
Over the past two years, the teens have participated in virtual meet-ups to play chess and have conversations about their lives and cultures.
The Chicagoans have prepared an itinerary of chess learning and competition for the Ghanaian students during their week-long visit.
In addition to chess, the Ghanaian students will learn about U.S. history and play American football while the American students, on the other hand, will learn Ghanaian football, local foods, languages and the unique Ghanaian culture and history.
The American students would host a free street chess festival in Chorkor on Thursday, 6th April to give local adults and children the chance to learn and play chess.
Workshops and friendly matches are expected to be held with Ghanaian chess players of all levels with members of Ghana Chess Association and Chess community learning, teaching, and engaging with the visitors from Chicago.
The Chicago-Ghana Chess Exchange is being funded by the Public Affairs Section Small Grant through the US Embassy in Ghana to develop a cross-cultural understanding of life for youth growing up in urban communities in both Ghana and the USA.
The Exchange Programme would build a more sustainable chess programme at the BASICS International facilities in Chorkor, the host, and equip the youth with the skills necessary to teach and maintain a lasting chess programme that can be expanded across the country.
The Initiative is linked directly to the U.S. Embassy’s strategic goal of promoting opportunities in underserved communities and comes off barely a day after the U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris concluded her three-day visit to Ghana.
Matthew Kearney, the Executive Director of the Chicago Chess Foundation, ahead of the arrival of the students said, “Chess is a universal language, spoken by people from all walks of life through the centuries.”
He said the international trip “demonstrate how chess has the power to break down barriers—including geography, religion, race, and gender – to unite people.”
Patricia Wilkins, Founder and Executive Director of BASICS International, a non-profit in the United States and a recognized Non-Government Organization (NGO) in Ghana, said: “All of the students are excited to meet and talk with their new friends from Chicago and learn how to become more competitive chess players.”
“They are also eager to show off the beauty, culture, and the history of Ghana to our visitors,” she added.
As hosts in Ghana, she said BASICS would organize cultural visits to cultural sites, including Cape Coast, known for its dark history of transatlantic slave trade.
“Chicago students will learn about African drumming and screen printing.” Ms Wilkins added.
Jack Heller, 16, a CPS student and U.S. Chess Federation-titled Expert and one of Chicago’s top chess players said, “I am really excited to visit Ghana and share my passion for chess with the students and community in Chorkor.”
“I may be going there as a chess teacher, but I am definitely a beginner when it comes to Ghanaian culture and history. I think this will be a life-changing trip for me.”
John Allotey, a first-year high school student from Chorkor who has been playing chess for five years like his sisters Mary and Rebecca Barnor, who won some tournaments and held titles. John learned the game at BASICS International through volunteers and became an instant sensation, winning a Gold Medal in a Youth Chess Tournament.
Asked how they felt about meeting students from Chicago, they replied, “We already know them, as we used to talk on Zoom during online tournament games, but this is more exciting to be able to interact with them face to face.
The Chicago Chess Foundation, formed in 2015, believes that chess can fundamentally change the lives of children and families and contribute to the betterment of the community.
It provides chess instruction, training, and competitive opportunities to all Chicago students. Each year, it hosts free tournaments across the city, reaching more than 2,000 children.
BASICS International, is a community-based programme in Ghana that promotes literacy, economic empowerment, public health, and social inclusion.
Since 2000, BASICS International has impacted over 300,000 through community outreach, and provided over 3,000 educational sponsorships – half of those going to girls.