Time really does fly! In February, I had the amazing opportunity to be in Ibadan for the Chess in Slum Ibadan tournament outreach. I’ve always had a desire to tell the story of Chess in Slum in the most amazing way possible.
It was an incredible experience that spanned two weeks, during which a group of dedicated volunteers from “Chess in Slums” embarked on an inspiring mission. They handpicked 40 boys, some of whom were orphans while others had left their homes due to extremely difficult circumstances. Some of these boys were facing immense challenges — struggling with drug addiction and working in low-paying jobs — as they tried to navigate through life.
Every day, these boys spent six hours immersing themselves in chess, technology, art, and mental mathematics. The program was carefully designed to awaken their minds and ignite a sense of hope within them. Chess in Slums was established in 2018 when Babatunde Onakoya conceived the idea on how the game of chess can be used to lift indigent children out of the endless loop of poverty and societal denigration. Their ultimate goal is to train over 1 million Children in the space of 5 years. I have always wanted to tell Chess in Slum’s story in the simplest way I can.
I embarked on a two-hour journey from Lagos to Ibadan and headed straight to Mokola underbridge. By this time, the boys were already preparing for their significant day by trying on their outfits, getting haircuts, and practicing their chess skills. Throughout this entire process, I could feel the excitement radiating from these boys. They were beyond thrilled and fully prepared for the big day ahead. It was during this time that I took the opportunity to observe not only the boys but also their surroundings and other essential aspects that would enable me to tell this story with excellence. This helped me visualize how I would capture those final moments through my photographs.
In addition to witnessing these young boys’ dedication towards chess education, there were also street girls joyfully engaged in learning and playing chess nearby. Chess in Slum is not solely focused on empowering young boys; they also undertake various projects that involve girls too — such as the QueensNotPawns project.
The day flew by in a blur, and everyone was buzzing with excitement for the tournament. Being a born and bred Ibadan resident, I decided to take advantage of the evening and pay my dear mother a visit. I also indulged in the iconic Abula dish at a local restaurant, savoring every bite.
Finally, the long-awaited tournament day arrived. The stage was set, adorned with vibrant colors and decorations. The boys looked impeccable in their agbada and fila outfits — an embodiment of Yoruba culture. They exuded confidence as they prepared to showcase their skills on the chessboard. Chess has always been associated with nobility, making them feel like true kings.
The tournament commenced with heartfelt prayers and the stirring national anthem echoing through the venue. With heads held high, our young contenders gracefully took their seats amid applause from spectators eagerly anticipating an intense battle of wits.
As the games unfolded, the atmosphere was electric. The boys played with a passion that could only come from a place of newfound purpose. They moved their chess pieces with precision, their minds focused on the game, determined to prove that they were more than just products of their circumstances. The tournament was a lot of fun for the boys.
As soon as the final game concluded amidst cheers of triumph or sighs of defeat, I felt an overwhelming desire to capture more portrait photographs, unable to ignore the elegance with which the boys were dressed. I untied a piece of fabric that adorned one of the pillars on the bridge and utilized it as a background. My intention was to create an open-air studio on the street, utilizing natural light. One by one, I invited each boy for a session of beautiful photographs.
Tunde and his team are raising future Kings, Presidents, and world-changers in their own unique way. Tunde firmly believes that great things can be accomplished regardless of where you come from; this is just Day 1.
At the conclusion of the tournament, there were winners and winners. True triumph resided in the incredible transformation that had occurred within each and every one of these young boys. They not only discovered their passion for the game but more importantly unearthed their own potential.
One of the things I observed is that the outreach wasn’t just about chess training; it was about witnessing a family of passionate and brilliant young minds who shared emotions, love, care for each other, and their community. This photography moment stands out as one of my most memorable one in year 2023. I’m incredibly grateful for having witnessed how this organization is making such a positive impact on these young lives. It’s awe-inspiring to see what can happen when passion meets purpose!
One particular moment that stood out for me was when Babatunde Onakoya joyfully danced with his parents at tournament’s end.
As I left Ibadan, I couldn’t help but wonder what the future held for these boys. Would they become grandmasters, earning accolades and recognition? Or would they use the lessons they had learned to create a better life for themselves and their communities?
Chess, a game for kings, had become a symbol of hope and possibility for these young boys. It had shown them that no matter where they came from, they had the power to shape their own destinies. And so, the story of these boys continues, leaving us all wondering what remarkable things they will achieve in the days to come.
Text and Photographs by Taiwo Aina. Read about my ongoing projects on my website.