Chess Opens Up A World of Opportunities for Haitian Students

February 15, 2021 • Haiti

The Greta Home & Academy chess club is representing Haiti at national and international competitions.

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Angelo wakes at 5 a.m. thinking about chess. Then he might read one of several books on chess strategy, studiously reviewing the work of chess masters. Or, he might play a series of simulated games on his computer, possibly even finding a live opponent online that early. In any case, he tries to get in several hours of chess before the day begins.

Dedicated chess players at GHA practice chess on computers to supplement in-person games and studying strategy of masters.

Dedicated chess players at Greta Home practice chess on computers to supplement in-person games and studying the strategy of masters.

This is why very few people in Haiti can beat Angelo—the 18-year-old who is the most recent vice champion (runner up) of the island nation’s men’s chess tournament. His early morning work reflects the discipline required to compete at the country’s highest levels.

Greta Home & Academy, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, has produced a number of such skilled chess practitioners—such as Davena, 15, a vice champion for Haiti’s women’s division and Valencia, 13, a rising star as well.

These three–Angelo, Davena, and Valencia—are all scholastic chess champions in their age groups and all three played on Haiti’s national chess team for the International Chess Federation’s (FIDE) online Olympiad this past summer, with over 160 teams and 1,500 participants from around the world.

This year Angelo and Davena are scheduled to compete on the Haiti national chess team during FIDE’s World Chess Olympiad in Moscow.

How did these teens become so good at chess? Well, of course, hours of practice have been integral to their success, but another key component has been Greta Home & Academy Director Penny Fairo’s lifelong love of the game.

Chess has become a part of everyday life at the Greta Home & Academy. They have chess boards of all sizes—including a version more than a foot in height—as well as a variety of chess books and online tutorials.

The young chess enthusiasts avidly study the games and strategies of past and current grand masters, a title given by the International Chess Federation based on championship and ratings criteria.

Spirit of Friendly Competition

Penny, who celebrated her 10-year anniversary at the Greta Home last year, started the chess club in 2016 so students could learn to play the game she had grown to love so much over the years.

Learning to play chess builds young people’s confidence and self-esteem, says Penny Fairo, director of our Greta Home & Academy, who introduced the game to students there.

Learning to play chess builds young people’s confidence and self-esteem, says Penny Fairo, director of our Greta Home & Academy.

An occasional game of chess played at her desk or on the grounds under a mango tree turned into regular matches and caught on with an increasing number of students. Within four years, the chess club has grown from 10 to 46 students.

“I wanted them to learn to play according to the rules and procedures and find the joy in playing the game,” she said.

Penny’s love for chess began at a young age as she was taught by her father. As a girl, her goal used to be to win against him. Now the tables have turned. As students square off in games for fun and practice, the most prized game to win on campus tends to be with Penny herself.

Sometimes it can take more than a year of playing before a student gets good enough to beat Penny. This is a more common occurrence these days, which is why Penny decided to bring in a professional to up the students’ games. Now Penny has replaced herself as their coach with a five-time Haitian national champion.

Learning from the Pros

Through the internet, Angelo has taken his dedication miles further than the daily rigor he invests to master the game. Penny recently reached for resources outside of Haiti so Angelo could receive weekly online instruction from a French chess grand master. Angelo is now learning advanced strategies from one of the best in the world.

This advanced coaching has stoked his love for the game even more. His dorm room walls at Greta Home are covered in murals of chess grand masters and other chess-themed images. Angelo says the chess club has given him opportunities he might not otherwise have in Haiti.

“I like to play for the Greta Home chess club because they’ve provided me with an online coach. I also get to participate in many tournaments,” Angelo said. “And I get to play chess every day.”

Teaching Life Lessons

All of these hours of chess games and coaching are, at the heart of it, an opportunity for Greta Home & Academy students to build character and learn valuable life skills.

Residents of the Greta Home & Academy compete against each other in frequent chess matches.

Residents of the Greta Home & Academy compete against each other in frequent chess matches.

Jamesley, 14, another highly regarded player from the Greta Home, enjoys the social aspect of chess. He’s quick to make new friends and share his love for chess by teaching others.

“When I play chess, it makes me happy, and it’s so much fun,” he said. “What I love most about playing chess is when I’m going other places to play chess. When I’m in tournaments, I get to make more friends.”

The Greta Home also provides opportunities for the students to connect with other groups throughout Haiti. In addition to hosting chess tournaments at Greta Home & Academy (and online in 2020), several of the students on the chess club exchange playing tips through digital apps with children in other parts of Haiti.

Penny says she’s not just interested in building chess champions. She says the qualities that develop good chess players also help create men and women with strong minds.

“Chess teaches critical thinking skills, planning, and patience,” Penny said. “It takes concentration to play, study, and learn chess. We’ve seen students improve in mathematics after becoming involved in chess. It’s also been a way to help children increase their confidence and self-esteem, that if they put in the time and effort, they will see improvement.”

Dreaming Big

Roudena, 15, loves the sense of accomplishment that learning chess gives her.

Members of our Greta Home and Academy chess club enjoy the challenge and thrill of competition. But even more than that, they’ve blossomed because of the confidence it has given them. Lovemaillie and Angelo,  back row, second and third from left, are preparing to play at the highest levels of the game.

Members of our Greta Home and Academy chess club enjoy the challenge and thrill of competition. But even more than that, they’ve blossomed because of the confidence it has given them. Lovemaillie and Angelo, back row, second and third from left, are preparing to play at the highest levels of the game.

“Chess helped me learn how to focus on things and how to remember things that I learned,” she said. “The thing I love when I play chess is when I’m thinking about a move, I feel confident.”

Chess has taught Lovemaillie, 16, to face challenges with both optimism and determination.

“Whenever I lose a game,” she said, “I learn from my mistakes. We know in life that we can fail, but we can do our best to grow again, to learn from our mistakes, and to do our best.”

Equipping the students with life skills that will serve them well into adulthood is part of Greta Home & Academy’s mission.

“We ask our students to dream big, not to dream small. We are raising up future leaders in Jesus’ Name,” Penny said.

Greta Home & Academy is a residence and school for vulnerable children where they can receive a quality education in a Christian environment. It is named in honor of news commentator Greta Van Susteren for her advocacy for the people of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and subsequent cholera epidemic.

The dog in residence offers canine companionship to the players and the pieces.

The dog in residence offers canine companionship to the players and the pieces.

SUPPORT
Samaritan’s Purse opened the Greta Home and Academy in 2012 in honor of Greta Van Susteren to recognize her advocacy for the people of Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Your gift will help provide a Christian home and education for these children so they might grow up to be like King David, whom God called “a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22).
Greta Home and Academy Samaritan’s Purse officially opened the Greta Home and Academy in 2012 in honor of Greta Van Susteren to recognize her advocacy for the people of Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Your gift will help provide a Christian home and education for these children so they might grow up to be like King David, whom God called “a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22).

Haiti-Greta Home & Academy 013962
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