This past October Sports Outreach was honored to have Robert Katende share at our annual banquet.  While Robert was in the United States he was able to catch up with friends, update us all on the latest happenings on the chess academy and the students, but there was so much to share we thought we would just let him tell you himself!

While the rest of the world will come to know Robert Katende from his portrayal by award winning actor David Oyelowo, Lynchburg, Virginia and its Sports Outreach Institute’s headquarters were recently treated to the man himself. Set to release next year, Queen of Katwe was an amazing opportunity for the people of Uganda—some receiving money for acting as extras—and reawakening Katende’s celebrity status, which he admits is of little concern to him in the face of what it means for his ministry.

Katende traveled from his home in Kampala, Uganda, to rainy Lynchburg to speak at SOI’s fifth annual banquet October 29.

“First and foremost I feel like I want to thank the people for their love. Their giving and their love has a tremendous impact to the world,” Katende said.

The Lynchburg Ballroom was clouded with an air of joy, gratitude and hope, but also a poignant realization of the work still needing to be done. As Robert rose to speak, his smile and gratitude gave testament to the work that has been done in his life and the lives of his students, by God utilizing SOI.

Just a few days prior, Robert sat in the SOI offices speaking about his life, the chess program and his hope for its future. As he spoke, the smile that preceded each of his sentences, was in stark contrast to the portrait just over his right shoulder displaying the intense glare of his chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi.

Years after his and Phiona’s story became the stuff of headlines, Robert still works to build his program. At that moment, his student Gloria—who some may remember as Phiona’s toddler chess mentor—was busy representing Uganda at a chess tournament in Greece.

“We have started seeing some of the fruits of our work,” Katende said.

The fruit spoken of translates both as infrastructure and resources that are growing the program, and as the success stories of slum kids that result. Robert hopes to teach the kids more about life than anything else, admitting that “chess is just a platform that I use to interact.”

Robert was happy to have attended one of his former student’s graduation party, who went on to become a math and physics teacher. He also notes that many of his current staff were former slum kids from his chess program.

Many developments have taken place and are currently underway in Uganda. From the humble beginnings of his one chess board and little shack, there are now about 1,400 children in the chess program, according to Robert and SOI. There are a total of five slum chess centers in Kampala, with some spreading into Gulu. Robert recently trained 36 teachers in Kenya to begin teaching chess as well.

Additionally, the program has spread to SOI’s Central American branches and is seeing some growth, according to SOI Director of Operations/CFO Sal Ferlise.

“Chess itself is more like life. People don’t know they are playing the chess of life. Everyone plays chess. Whatever you can find on the chess board you find in your day to day life. But, the chess board avails you the opportunity to try out situations and make those mistakes. So you have a platform where you can practice from, decision making, strategy, time and resource management,” Katende said.

Perhaps the most significant development currently underway, is the implementation of the Kampala Ministry Center. The center still has much work to be done, but will feature several key branches that address SOI’s main tenants. A few facilities include, a primary school, vocational centers, a health clinic, a sports ministry complex, lodging, and of course, a chess academy.

The center will serve as a hub for developmental learning and ministry for the eastern region of Central Africa. As Robert points out, there are many chess programs all over the world, but SOI’s goal is to use chess to mentor kids about life.

“I was not looking at making chess champions. My goal was having a platform to build relationships and see how I can build lives,” Katende said.

Although much of Robert’s success can be seen through the growth of the program, one cannot deny the growth he has had as a person. Robert has gone from an orphan, to the soccer star of Kampala, to a novice chess player just trying to reach kids, to a chess coach and family man.

“Robert is one of those rare leaders that has the ability to administrate positive change with all the intellectual, diplomatic, operational and visionary skills required. At the same time, Robert embodies the most sensitive and humble traits of a teacher and servant, never losing sight of sharing with one in need of hope and transformation,” Ferlise said.

Currently, Robert works as a social action secretary for FIDE World Chess Federation. He is a husband and father to two girls called Hope and Mercy, with a few more children he has adopted from the slums. Robert’s own family struggles as a child without a father, made him nervous to become one himself.

Robert found himself doing extensive research, reading books and attending seminars to learn how a father should conduct himself. He realized that his time as a mentor to the slum children was excellent training for such an undertaking. His children are even learning to play chess, beckoning him “Daddy come, let us play chess.”

“I think one thing I’ve learned is to yield a positive attitude in every situation. Especially as a believer. Whatever God allows to come my way, there is a lesson in it.”

Robert is now working on a program that will train the physically handicapped to be successful in the chess world. This coming March Robert will see the fruition of his petition to bring the first ever commission meeting of the world chess body to Africa, let alone Uganda. Robert hopes his program will receive greater recognition and his kids can attain higher rankings by training under visiting masters.

Interview by one of our very talented interns, Jeremy Angione.