Because the knight can change the game

Even the name “Vilka chess club” expresses the desire for change. “Vilka” is a Russian word that describes a strong move with the knight that can unexpectedly turn an entire game around. That is exactly what Sohibjamol Rakamova wants to accomplish with her club, which she founded in 2019: to prove to society that children with disabilities have potential. “People here think that these children cannot achieve anything in society – but they are wrong: they can. That’s what I want to demonstrate and thereby change the way people think.”

Rakamova is an avid chess player herself and feels a strong connection with the children she supports today. This is because of her own history. Fighting her way up through the ranks to the top of the chess world was not an easy feat for Rakamova. “Chess is very popular in Tajikistan. Parents enrol their children in chess clubs even before they enter school, to promote their critical, analytical and logical thinking,” the young woman explains. “I was interested, too, and wanted to be part of that world, but my home town did not have a chess club.”

“Nobody believed that I could do it”

Rakamova grew up in a remote region in the Pamir Mountains. Her father gave her chess lessons at home. “I was teased because I didn’t have professional training. Nobody believed I could hold my own in the chess community.” But things turned out differently. Rakamova won many professional competitions. Now, as a chess champion, she passes on her self-confidence and perseverance to children with disabilities. “Chess has an impact on the children and on the society that does not want give these children a chance.”

Before founding the club, the political science graduate worked as a volunteer counsellor in the department of children’s rights in the administrative centre of Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan province in Pamir. While there, she learned a lot about the situation of children with disabilities. “The government of Tajikistan does a lot to alleviate the lack of schools, sports facilities and infrastructure that can accommodate people with disabilities. But my idea to integrate persons with disabilities through the game of chess was new.”

A chess player who wants to work for disabled children: Sohibjamol Rakamova

Experience from inclusive kindergartens in Germany

Rakamova gathered more information and came to Germany for three months in the spring of 2019 on the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen’s (ifa) CrossCulture Programme. In Berlin, she examined inclusive kindergartens. “The children there were more autonomous and less dependent than what I know from Tajikistan.” Not only does Rakamova now apply the experience she gained in Germany supporting early childhood development in her chess club – she also tirelessly shares her insights by informing kindergartens and talking about it on relevant platforms.

Starting the chess club, which is funded by donations, took a lot of motivation and persuasion. The project started with 15 children aged between six and 15. These children had a range of disabilities, among them autism and attention deficit/hyper-activity disorders (ADHD). “For three months, my team and I trained them. Immediately after, one of the children won an inclusive competition against children without disabilities. That was incredibly inspiring for all of us.”

Today, the club supports 200 children, 53 of whom have a disability, and welcomes the assistance of international trainers. The guiding principle: “Every child is special and unique, and accepted by everyone the way they are.”

Sohibjamol Rakamova’s tips for starting a non-profit organisation

  • Turning a dream into reality takes strong motivation.
  • Years of preparation, intense consideration, analysing possible problems and developing solutions are indispensable.
  • You should look beyond your own horizons: How are others doing it?
  • You need to seek direct, interpersonal exchange in order to persuade others of your ideas.
  • You must build a reliable, trustworthy team.
  • You also need an international network of supporters, possible donors and experts.
  • Broad dissemination of ideas and plans via social media attract the necessary attention.
  • You need to tirelessly look for a suitable location.
  • Attending a training course on leadership skills – for example the leadership courses for social change offered by – can be helpful.
  • You need perseverance and have to constantly advertise the project, even when it is already running.

Author: Bettina Mittelstraß



June 2020