This past Monday, Nov. 6, Robert Katende and Phiona Mutsei visited Wheaton. The college has recently awarded Katende the Otis Social Justice Award. Last year, Disney made a film, “Queen of Katwe,” about their life; it follows Mutsei’s life growing up in Katwe, one of Uganda’s largest slums.
As a child, Mutsei could not attend school and would sell maize with her siblings; however, this soon changed after she met Katende. Katende taught many other children like Mutsei how to play chess, which changed their lives forever. Mutsei became so proficient and skilled as a player that she would go on to attend multiple chess olympiads.
Mutsei and Katende’s story was later turned into a book, “The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster,” by Tim Crothers, which would inspire the Disney film “Queen of Katwe.”
Katende’s mentorship to these children makes for a truly awe-inspiring story. His speech entitled “Hope Wins” emphasizes, just as the title suggests, how even in the face of the gravest and toughest scenarios, hope can help individuals triumph over anything.
From a young age, Katende had rarely seen his mother, as she was a teenager and unable to take care of him. As a result, Katende lived with his grandmother for several years. When he was four years old, he was finally reunited with his mother for about three years. Unfortunately, Katende and his mother separated, and she later passed away. This traumatic incident encouraged Katende to become a mentor later in his life and to create a family that he felt he never had as a child.
In regards to how being a mentor for children has impacted his perception on life, Katende said, “It was a very eye-opening experience, and I met people who I thought I’d never could have imagined meeting. I didn’t have a family growing up and it was comforting to have the one I’ve developed now, and teaching these kids has also taught me so much tolerance.” In addition, he has recently founded the Robert Katende Foundation, which helps many other children just like Mutsei play chess and come out of poverty.
Let us hope that the modest, caring and humble Katende continues on his journey, bringing joy and happiness to many more people’s lives.