Making a difference in Africa

by Evan Rabin
8/13/2019 – A New York-based chess instructor and entrepreneur reports on teaching chess in Tanzania. After working in corporate America, doing enterprise sales for the likes of Oracle, EVAN RABIN rekindled his interest in teaching children and formed Premier Chess in September 2017, quickly expanding to 58 programs. | Photo: Paul Njau

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A New Yorker in Tanzania

As I continue to grow Premier Chess, I realize the importance of giving back to the community. Therefore,  when my friend Theresa Grant, Founder and Director of Make a Difference Now, offered me to come back to Tanzania July 11th to 20th to teach another group of students at Uru Secondary School, there was no doubt I would.

This year, I came to Africa with Louis Cuerdo, a teacher from San Sebastian Spain, who was on the 1st Make a Difference Teaching Chess in Africa trip in June 2018, and Jason Bui, the co-founder of the Philadelphia Chess Society. Unlike last year when I was clueless about the country, this year it felt nice to know a lot of the people and geography of Moshi, on the foothills of Mount Kiliminjaro. When Jason and I arrived at the airport, I gave our driver and friend Paul a big hug immediately. We then went to the guest house for dinner and rest.

On our first day, we had an orientation, including a Swahili lesson, and went to Uru Secondary School. Unlike Royal School, which is the traditional private school we went to last year, Uru Secondary School is Catholic. The students and teachers were happy when I mentioned Premier Chess is the preferred chess vendor for the Catholic Youth Organization in New York. The first day we were a little cramped in a classroom but managed to get by.

Classroom in Tanzania

Students in a Tanzanian classroom | Photo: Paul Njau

Last year at Royal School, one of the students asked us an amazing question- “What is the most important thing chess has taught you?” Our driver Paul explained “ The first time  you make a mistake, it is a learning experience. The second time you make it, it is a true mistake.” Inspired by that, I asked the students,  “If there is one quality that is important to have to get good in chess or anything else in life, what is it?” I explained how David Macenulty states “The golden rule in life is being a good listener”. Many sales managers recommend the 80-20 rule, where one listens 80% of the time and talks 20% of the time. After the rest of the teachers gave answers, the students felt more comfortable giving theirs, which included practice, competence, thinking, games, persistence and confidence.

Fellow volunteers Luis, National Master Kola Adayemi, Expert Jack Mo and Rohan Gupta had a great time at Royal School last year and did plant a framework for chess at the school. Peter, one of Make a Difference’s students, who transferred this year from Royal School to Uru Secondary, explained how the Royal School did start a chess club every Wednesday; however, the teachers were never vested. We only occasionally had teachers visit our classroom. To the contrary, the Uru Secondary sports instructors were enthusiastic about chess and wanted to learn themselves. Most days we had three teachers in the room with us and we almost always had at least 1. Two of them competed in our tournament the last day and promised that they would help run a chess club before we leave: We are going to create a chess club and have competitions and ask other schools to try and learn about it as we are ambassadors.” (Gaurent, Teacher)

In addition to helping out the kids, one of the main benefits of our trip was exchanging chess pedagogy ideas with one another for us to improve as teachers. We taught the students, who mostly did not know what a pawn looks like, board geography and the pawn game. Jason creatively put out his arms out and demonstrated how pawns move and capture.   The next day to improve the pawn game, we had the boys play against girls using the demo board. Generally speaking, I do not let students come up to demo board as I want them to practice notation and I do not want them to waste a lot of time running back and forth to their seats. However, Jason picked a perfect solution, where we had boy and girl representatives to make the moves after their teammates would call out where to go. On Day 3, Luis shared a metaphor that I plan on using in the classroom: “With the queen’s beauty, she needs a matching dress.” 

Boys playing chess

Chess is a universal language | Photo: Paul Njau

In my sophomore year at Brandeis University, we learned about glocalization in my Introduction to Anthropology class. Jason took this concept to heart when he taught the point system. Instead of talking in points or dollars, he decided to assign values in Shillings.  Didn’t you know the pawn is worth 1000 shillings, the bishop and knight or worth 3,000 shillings, etc.? To help students grasp the importance of not losing material, I shared with them and the instructors a game Nelson Dunn taught me at PS 40- “No Free Pieces.” In this variant, if you give your opponent a 1- point material advantage for no compensation, you lose.

On our final day of teaching on July 18th, we had a tournament with 67 participants, made up of our 61 Uru students, two of their teachers, three older Make a Difference sponsored students, Paul and four students from Born to Learn, where Luis has volunteered for six months at a time for the last four years. The students played a four-round Swiss. While we got off to a rocky start, as many of the students played on the wrong boards in round 1, we caught up by round 2. Since we had to finish four games, we adjudicated many of the games. In the end, we were happy that Peter, a Make a Difference Student, won the 1st place trophy!  

Thanks to great support from Uru Secondary School and Make a Difference Now, we already looking forward to our 3rd Annual Make a Difference Teaching Chess Africa trip July 11-18, 2020! Please consider applying today.

Evan was born and raised in New York. After working in Corporate America, doing enterprise sales at Oracle and Rapid 7, he formed Premier Chess in September 2017. Premier Chess currently runs programs in 58 schools and companies including the law firm Kramer Levin. He is a US Chess National Master.


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