An 18 year-old’s determined attempt to help underprivileged and disabled kids to topple the Checkmate of Life!


In Chess parlance, Checkmate is the position in which a player’s king is in check, threatened with capture, and there is no way to remove the threat. Essentially, this means that a player has potentially lost. But, this term has transcended into routine lingo to signify ‘Defeat’. But, Chess prodigy Devanshi Rathi’s initiative Project Checkmate tries to reverse the literal effect of this word by bringing in light into the lives of hundreds of underprivileged children and children with visual impairments – by using the sport of Chess as a medium.

Students learning enthusiastically with a volunteer | Image Courtesy : Project Checkmate
Students learning enthusiastically with a volunteer | Image Courtesy : Project Checkmate

Born and brought up in New Delhi, 18-year old Devanshi has been playing Chess for more than a decade. She is a certified Arena International Master and Arena FIDE Master, conferred by FIDE – The primary governing body of International Chess tournaments. While playing against individuals with visual impairments, Devanshi was immensely inspired by their skills. She started an online blog called Devchess to publish content surrounding Chess for a larger audience. This was expanded into an impact project when Devanshi witnessed the children with visual impairments play and saw a silver lining of how Chess can be utilised for greater good. This was how Project Checkmate was born; as an attempt to impart life-skills to underprivileged kids and kids with visual impairments.

 

Kids learning the nuances of Chess with Devanshi Rathi | Image Coutesy : Project Checkmate
Kids learning the nuances of Chess with Devanshi Rathi | Image Coutesy : Project Checkmate

“Chess gives you the skills needed to be a better individual. It develops your mind holistically and gives you a far reaching thought process. I feel that chess makes children equipped with undivided focus and increases their attention span. It also makes your memory sharper and helps to develop logical thinking skills. These tools will eventually help them to make their lives and future secure.” Says Devanshi. It was soon enough that the word for the project creeped out and offers for associations came in. Project Checkmate tied up with the National Association of the Blind(NAB), New Delhi to teach students with visual impairments on how to play and improve their game. Since then, the people at NAB have supported her endeavours.  Children are trained to use quality chess materials like grandmaster books, games, online software, and videos to instill a passion for chess into them.

But like every tale of life, this too had its share of obstacles. Devanshi had her own mountains to move, in an attempt to take The Checkmate Project to a pinnacle. “I had thought of the idea in 2015. But due to my own hectic schedule on the circuit, I was unable to start it until 2016. Challenges like funds, time issues, and equipment problems,  were but everything kept moving as I kept searching. I was inspired by my students and worked to find solutions. Once I started, things just went in flow.” Devanshi reaffirms with a compliant satisfaction.

Image Courtesy : Project Checkmate
Image Courtesy : Project Checkmate

The project also takes the students for various tournaments in and around New Delhi. As a result of this, Ayush Prakash Jaiswal – a student learning under Checkmate− received his International FIDE Rapid Rating after competing in the Chessmine Rapid Tournament in the September, 2017 FIDE ratings list. Two students also qualified to the National ‘B’ Chess Championship for the Blind, 2017 . Some Students have also had the opportunity to learn from Grandmaster and former world Champion Garry Kasparov.

Students from Project Checkmate after having won accolades at a tournament. A regular sight for many students training in the initiative | Image Courtesy : Project Checkmate
Students from Project Checkmate after having won accolades at a tournament. A regular sight for many students training in the initiative | Image Courtesy : Project Checkmate

The 12th grader has been invited as a speaker at Indian Youth Forum Awards and was a Runner’s up for Queen’s Young Leader – 2018. Also, Project Checkmate has won the Indian Youth Forum Award 2017 for excellence in Youth Development, The PHD House Award for exemplary work in the field of social service to children in March, 2017, Hindustan Times Paathshaala ‘Aaj Kya Sikhaya’ Award and the Sir Sardar Bhagwant Singh Award for Excellence in Research, 2017.

Devanshi would soon be leaving for her higher studies at UC Berkeley in 2018. This begs an obvious question of what would become of Project Checkmate.  Devanshi responds with an innocent determination that “Project Checkmate is extremely close to my heart. This initiative fills me up with motivation and I would have all the time in the world to spare for these children. I think that if you really believe in something then you need to work and keep on working towards it.”

As these statements still resonate and echo in our minds, we are not surprised to see the phenomenal growth Project Checkmate has seen in just 2 years. Devanshi is trying her best to present these children with a platform, equivalent to international standards. If you are interested in Chess or would just like to become a supporter of the initiative, you can contact Devanshi at devanshirathi10@gmail.com.

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