Ugandan Slumdog Millionaire – Phiona Mutesi

A 16-year-old from Uganda just wanted something to eat the day she wandered into a chess tournament that swept her out of the slums and into the international spotlight.

In 2011, Tim Crothers wrote a viral piece for ESPN Magazine about Phiona Mutesi. The story is once again getting attention as Crothers tours the U.S. this week to promote a full-length book about the teen, who he says is “the ultimate underdog.”

“Before I discovered chess… I was living on the streets,” Mutesi told CNN in an interview broadcast on Monday. “You couldn’t have anything to eat at the streets.”

In 2005, a hungry Mutesi arrived at a missionary where 28-year-old Ugandan Robert Katende was teaching locals to play chess in exchange for a cup of porridge, the Guardian reported. Her brother, who was with her, had seen the tournaments before and also needed food.

“I had never heard of chess,” she told the paper. “But I liked how the pieces looked.”


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