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This Girl Is Teaching Chess To Hundreds Of Underprivileged Kids Across India Despite COVID!

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My brother and I were 5 and 7 years old, respectively, and it was a Friday night. We were in the mood for board games. My mother had read in a parenting book that teaching kids chess helped improve their memory and focus. So she thought she would introduce us to the world of the 64 squares. Little did we know how the game would change our lives and mould our personalities.

As young children, we enjoyed challenging ourselves with complex puzzles, which hooked us onto chess. We had each others’ company to play along with and would often challenge family members for a match and even the guests who would arrive at our home. We treated chess as a board game, unaware that it was actually practised as an internationally recognised sport.

playing chess
Representative Image. Source: flickr

Those who knew us saw our deep interest in chess and suggested that we join a chess academy to become professional players. This was the start of our journey.

When I look back at myself as a 7-year-old player, I used to feel bad when I lost games and such losses would often demotivate me. I also didn’t realise the true meaning of hard work at the time and wasn’t aware of the sacrifices and level of dedication involved in the life of a sports person.

In these 9 years of playing chess, I’ve realised the importance of focussing on efforts rather than the outcomes because that’s what really is in your control. So, gradually, I stopped crying after l lost a game and instead used my losses as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and improve my game.

While I used to prepare for Nationals or Commonwealth, months before the tournament, we spent almost 8–10 hours in front of the chessboard. So while I would see my peers throwing parties over the weekends, I would be staring at the black and whiteboard in complete silence.

Today I feel proud of how I used my time differently and stayed committed to the goal because if I had given up back then, I would not be sharing my journey today.

As you may have realised, chess had become a part of our system and we were deeply passionate about the game. We had travelled our country, the world due to tournaments, created such beautiful memories along the way and imbibed a plethora of life skills.

However, when I entered 10th grade, I had to make a very difficult decision. It was either chess or studies because both required a lot of dedication and it wasn’t possible to give both fields equal justice together. As I was only 15, leaving behind academics was not that encouraged by those around me. So, with a heavy heart, I decided to pursue chess as just a hobby.

But it was like we had stepped in too far to be able to back out so easily and that’s where the idea of Samvedna came into our mind. A feeling, a desire to give back to society through chess.

As a background, my mom is a full-time social worker and I still remember when she took me with her to a slum when I was 10 and made me play chess with a few kids there. As I recall, I was playing against a boy who was 3–4 years older than me and around 20–30 people had gathered around to watch the game.

Playing Chess
Image provided by the author.

That moment stayed with me and it is what inspired me to target the underprivileged kids and teach them chess. Not only would chess help them develop essential life skills and have a positive effect on their academics, but it’s also not a bad career path.

So our cause was decided and step one was to gain the necessary funds to execute this initiative. Then, we decided to organise a tournament to launch Samvedna, so preparations for the same began. We got ONGC to sponsor us, spread the message in all our chess contacts and invited Gautam Gambhir and the Sports Minister, Kiren Rijiju, as chief guests to our event.

On 14 and 15 December 2019, the tournament took place at The Banyan Tree School, New Delhi, with the participation of over 250 players. Well, making this event a success was not exactly a piece of cake. There were several challenges we faced in our path. For example, in the first week of marketing, we had zero registrations and we were utterly shocked, on the brink of cancelling the event.

However, we took our own chess learnings into consideration and just like the pawn doesn’t turn back, we decided we would not give up and instead change our strategies. So we started personally calling up parents and convincing them to make their children take part, and gladly, this worked very well for us.

The end all be all lesson was: where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

Representative Image. Source: pxfuel

After the tournament, we started two physical centres in the slums of Delhi, but then we were hit with Covid. The classes had to be shut and we were unsure of what to do. But then we thought, “So what if things have shifted online? On the brighter side, if we start our classes digitally, we don’t have to limit ourselves to a specific geographical region, opportunities will be limitless.”

That’s what we did. We got 20+ coaches from across the country to teach students in various regional languages. We collaborated with several NGOs and educated 350+ underprivileged kids from across seven states in India and the journey goes on.

Now I’ve spoken quite a bit about my chess and Samvedna’s journey, now let me share my journey as an Author. I published my book, Open Your Wardrobe for Answers, in September 2020 and it is based on clothing psychology. I was fascinated by this subject and as a fashion enthusiast, I was quite interested in interpreting my personality based on my dressing style.

Therefore, I researched this topic and got some really invigorating insights that I felt were worth sharing with everyone. So here are some important takeaways from my book. Firstly, the most imperative is to dress for yourself. We often tend to dress up to impress others, wear branded wear to create our regard among society and draw our attention to appearance than reality.

Successful people have one thing in common: they are confident under their skins and don’t wear clothes as a shield of protection from societal perceptions. The point is that there’s a stark difference between fashion and style. While fashion is subject to change, style is your personal take on fashion and it is what makes you different from others. So what we really need to do is to develop our own style rather than copy others.

Last but not least, I’d like to say age is just a number and you can achieve whatever you desire if you have the right intent. It’s sometimes okay to go against the waves and go in the opposite direction of the crowd. What you really need is to believe in yourself, your capabilities and stay optimistic. Life is not about finding yourself; life is about creating yourself.

Chess positions seem impossible to solve at times, but the answers are always present. You just need to immerse yourself further to reach the solution. Life is also that complicated puzzle, but you need to know that you have the potential to unravel it.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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