The Covid-19 pandemic has posed several challenges, yet given us so many opportunities to learn new skills and meet new people. It has been a year full of lovely e-memories and virtual collaborations. One such partnership that arose in this period was that between our foundation, Samvedna and Pratham. Together, we were able to teach chess to 100+ underprivileged kids from across 5 states in India as a part of our pilot project in this year full of uncertainties.

A little background about Samvedna Foundation: the foundation was initiated last year in December by my brother Bhavik Ahuja, who is 13 years old, and I, Bhushita Ahuja. Being international chess players ourselves, we wanted to spread our passion for chess with others and take this sport to every nook and corner of the country.

Having played chess for the past 9 years, we used our experience in the field to connect with coaches from around the country and convinced them to conduct chess classes for children in the slum areas once a week. We believe that chess is not merely a game, but a sport offering innumerable benefits. Chess enhances focus and concentration, inculcates problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, and promotes creativity and logical thinking. It is said to have a positive correlation with academic results as well, and we felt that introducing this game in the lives of these well-deserving students would help them with their education, too. With this goal in mind, we messaged all coaches within our network and received almost 20 confirmations for the weekly sessions.

The ‘Online Shatranj Paathshaala’ was ready to be launched with coaches, but we needed kids who were interested in learning chess. That’s when I reached out to Ms Chavi Jain from Pratham on LinkedIn and proposed our idea. This was the beginning of a partnership that blossomed in the coming months. Pratham, a firm believer in scalability, decided to pilot the project. The entire team worked hard to survey interested kids in the slums and introduced the concept of chess classes to them. Once 100 kids were identified, batches were created and coaches were allotted, and points of contact were established.

The classes commenced in regional languages - Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, and Gujarati - and a meeting was held once a week to discuss what went well and what could be improved. Regular feedback was taken and the team worked hard to incorporate continuous improvements in the working model. Attendance for every week was marked and reviews from students were also taken into consideration. While the Pratham team learnt some new chess skills, we learnt teamwork, communication skills and real-time operations from this collaboration. A common learning for both parties was that standardisation was imperative across different batches - that it was essential to structure the entire programme.

For me, I was very touched when I saw students draw the chessboard with chalks on the road and try to play the game... a couple of students from Rajasthan did this. This really shows us that, where there is a will, there is a way. The passion in students that I could witness through this example was awe-inspiring, because even though they didn’t have chess boards, they didn’t make any excuses but used their creativity to find a way out.

To conclude this pilot, we have developed a questionnaire which will be circulated among all students to assess how much they have learned. In addition to this, we organised a practice tournament on 5th December and will be hosting a final championship on 26th December to conclude the pilot. Those aspiring players who show potential will be taken to a higher level.

Henceforth, Samvedna and Pratham are all set to start working on a digital course on chess, and launch it in the upcoming year. We hope to take this course to as many well-deserving kids as possible and give them opportunities to grow. We collectively feel it is our duty as citizens of India to serve society and contribute to the upliftment of those around us. Sewa does not have a limit and this partnership aims to ignite the passion for chess in several others, inculcating a healthy sporting culture in the nation.

About The Author

16-year-old Bhushita Ahuja is the co-founder of Samvedna Foundation, which is working towards skill-development of underprivileged kids through chess. She’s an international chess player and U-17 girls State Champion. Her foundation is all set to reach out to every nook and corner of the country and empower students to take up sports.