The inspiring story of Karelle Bolon (2/2)

by Sagar Shah
1/23/2015 – Having secured the funds, it was time to justify the faith so many had put in her, and justify it she did. Travelling 18 hours to pick up the chess material, and then hours to reach the remote bush village and back, Karelle Bolon now teaches in two different schools, while working the five other days. She still faces challenges, but is committed to inspiring children to dream.

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Chess lessons at the bush school

The first chess lesson in the bush school in the Thnall village began on November 2nd. As Karelle puts it, “It was like Christmas! The kids were very happy to play chess and extremely curious. I really like the mood and everybody helps each other learn!”  At the same time there were some technical difficulties. The children had just started to learn English and Karelle was not too fluent in Khmer which is the local language. Fortunately, there were people like Nimol, or the English teacher in the bush school, who could bridge this communication gap.

The class room of the bush school is suddenly filled with chess

Learning how to arrange the pieces

In order to become a queen you should know how it moves

A full-fledged battle

A pawn reaching the last rank and someone taking their picture - these two things might
well have happened for the first time in the lives of these kids

Karelle, along with Nimol, uses innovative ways to teach children how the pieces move. Take for example the two videos below in which they teach the movement of the bishop and the knight.


Watch how they make use of a laser beam to teach how the bishop moves


Nimol shows how the knight, the trickiest piece, moves in chess

The Global Child

Karelle wanted to start her activities in a school that was not supported by any NGO and that was the reason why she began with the bush school. It helped her to identify the NGOs that were really interested in her chess project, and sure enough there was one called The Global Child. Karelle now goes to a school for the under-privileged children in Siem Reap, run by this NGO, to teach chess. So it’s five days of work as a fashion designer, Saturdays at the Global Child, and Sundays at the bush school!

That, my dear students, is called a checkmate! Karelle teaching the
children at Global Child about the final aim of the game.

You have to read if you want to improve

Karelle is very happy with the progress at the NGO. She says, “What happens at The Global Child is just incredible. They play very well, and keep playing even after I leave. The classes are only on Saturday but the students keep practising during the week. They ask me many questions about chess and now we are going to organize a small tournament with the chess clocks!”

The transport conundrum

Karelle stays nearly an hour away from the bush school. She relies on Nimol to take her on motorcycle every Sunday for the chess classes, but Nimol has his own problems with the motorcycle as he shares it with his brother. The other solution for Karelle is to travel to the school in a tuktuk, which costs $13, which is equal to the price of a chess set. As she says, “I took a tuktuk three times during December but from a long term point of view this is very expensive and impractical. I feel sad because the children in the countryside do not have the same opportunities as those who live in the city.”

Yet Karelle is positive that the next Sunday will be different. She is now trying to make arrangements to find someone else who could take her to the bush school on a motorbike. That would cost her considerably less, and she is desperately trying to make this work because the kids at the bush school are waiting for their chess class!

That’s what chess is capable of

It has been almost a year and half since Karelle left Europe. Surely she misses her home, but as she says, this project of popularizing chess in Cambodia is currently the most important thing in her life. What is it that motivates her to continue the chess activity in spite of so many difficulties?

“I know that small actions (even if it's one hour of chess) can inspire a child and give him a goal in life. I have a friend who heard about the Himalayas during school. He kept thinking about it during his childhood, as well as some of his adult life, and now he is on a wonderful trip around the world because of this dream. That's what I try to do, inspire kids and people to dream!”

If ever in the future we see Cambodia producing little chess talents, the credit will go to a
courageous woman called Karelle Bolon who is going against all odds to popularize the
game in the country

If you would like to follow Karelle Bolon's work be sure to check the following links:

"Chess for all in Cambodia" blog

"Chess for all in Cambodia" Facebook page

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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