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Monday, March 21, 2011

How a Peace Corps volunteer touched hearts with chess

Chess blog for latest chess news and chess trivia (c) Alexandra Kosteniuk, 2011

Stephanie Oegema plays chess with children in the village of Malvasi in the Republic of Vanuatu.

Hi everyone,

We found this really nice story to share. It's about Peace Corps volunteer Stephanie Oegema and how chess was the way to bonding in unfamiliar surroundings. Here is an excerpt from the essay:

"When I arrived at my first site on Epi Island, I had a hard time figuring out what being a Peace Corps volunteer meant. It was very frustrating feeling as if I were not productive. During this period, I was just taking each day one at a time. Some days were challenging, some days were relaxing, but almost every day was rewarding. The children were my instant friends, and they made sure I was not lonely.

It took me about nine months to realize that whatever I did, and whether I realized someone was watching me or not, had some sort of impact on the community. One example stands out in my mind: The time I accidentally taught my village how to play checkers. I had a chess set in my house, inherited from the previous volunteer. I did not know how to play, but when my friend Kristin, another Peace Corps volunteer, visited, she insisted on teaching me. We were sitting on a mat outside my house and our chess game captivated my host family and neighbors, who watched intently as we moved the pieces around the board. Our game was very interesting to these spectators even though nobody knew what was actually going on or why Kristin kept winning.

I had to leave for a few days to visit another village, and when I came back, I found one of my host uncles teaching a cousin how to play checkers on a homemade board. He had seen us playing chess, and remembered how he used to play a similar game while he was working on a ship. While I was gone, he made a board from a piece of large tile and some paint, then cut a stick of wood into playing pieces and started teaching his nephew. There were too many squares and not enough pieces, but that did not matter."

You can read the full story here.

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