Friday, 21 October 2016 10:04

Queen of Katwe: Disney Movie has Local Ties

SARATOGA SPRINGS ­— The recent Walt Disney film, “Queen of Katwe,” has a special connection with a local Saratoga Springs charity, The Giving Circle. The story is about a young girl, Phiona Mutesi, who rises out of poverty by mastering the game of chess with the help of teacher Robert Katende. Katende is now a teacher at The Giving Circle schools in Uganda. It all started when Saratoga Springs resident, Ann Fantauzzi, who is on the board of The Giving Circle, read the book “The Queen of Katwe,” and thought the chess program would be perfect for The Giving Circle’s schools in Uganda. “I thought it was a marvelous story, and I thought chess would be so good for these kids,” said Fanatauzzi. “It would give them confidence and lots of good skills, so I emailed the author, Tim Crothers, and told him about our work in Uganda. He emailed me right away saying it sounds like your work in Uganda is great and he asked what he could do to help.” That was the beginning of a road that would lead Fantauzzi to meeting Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende, the inspiration of Crother’s novel and the Disney film, as well as meeting Marissa van der Merwe, a South African professional road cyclist who developed the award-winning educational program, MiniChess™. Fantauzzi explained that it is a three-year program taught on a big magnetic chessboard. It teaches sequential skills; directions such as up, down, left, diagonal; counting; all the skills for four-year-olds right up through algebra for older students. Meanwhile, they also learn to play chess. About three years ago, Fanatuzzi met both Mutesi and Katende for breakfast in New York City to talk about the chess program in the movie. “We learned so much from them,” said Fantauzzi. “Chess was her way out. Just like basketball is the way out for some of these kids in New York City and Chicago and such.” Robert Katende is a math teacher, soccer player, and chess teacher in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. After learning about The Giving Circle’s program, “he agreed to go four hours out of his way to our school in the sugar cane fields to teach in our schools,” said Fanatuzzi. She said the schools are vital because all the boys, if they are not literate, will end up as cutters in the sugar cane fields, and all the girls will get married early and have kids. “Parents there really want their kids to have an education,” said Fantauzzi. The MiniChess program has been very successful, and Fantauzzi remembered when six of their students went to a chess tournament where Russian Chess GrandMaster Champion Garry Kasparov was playing. “They’d only been playing a few months, but the experience was wonderful. They were seeing stairs for the first time. They saw flushing toilets, running water, and TV’s for the first time,” said Fanatuzzi. “Garry invited people in the audience to challenge him. We pushed one of our girls to go up there and he beat her, but just to say one day that I played Garry is something. We had three kids out of 12 playing him, and he beat all of them but they had a great experience, including meeting other kids who play chess.” The Saratoga Independent School has also incorporated the MiniChess program with its kindergarteners. Fantauzzi said The Giving Circle’s chess students met Phiona Mutesi at a chess conference this year, and that she has been a great role model for them. Fantauzzi said the movie has hope, persistence, and a great message, showcasing a model for the kids that they can be places they never dreamed. “When I saw the film,” said Fanatuzzi, “I texted Robert right away to tell him I thought it was a wonderful tribute to your work, for you and Phiona.” Katende texted back: “Good you enjoyed the movie. It is our desire that it inspires people to never to lose hope.” The Giving Circle is hosting Taste of Africa and 2016 Giving Circle Compassion Awards at the Canfield Casino on November 10. The fun and casual event will be catered by Kim Klopstock’s Lily and the Rose featuring the tastes, sights, sounds and stories of Africa and the work of The Giving Circle and its friends, AOET, in Uganda. Funds raised from this event will benefit the work of both organizations. The Giving Circle Compassion Award recognizes that even the simplest act of kindness can have the greatest impact on the quality of life for the underserved and downtrodden. This award encourages selfless acts and promotes altruism and compassion in future generations. To learn more about this year’s award recipients, the Taste of Africa award dinner, or The Giving Circle’s programs, visit
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