Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sibun Chess Kingdom

Sibun Chess Kingdom welcomed 82 kids from 5 districts of Belize: Toledo, Belize, Stann Creek, Corozal and Cayo. Children were selected by the local district representatives and accompanied by local volunteers to the live-in camp at Sibun Jungle Lodge.

Chess King and Queen, accompanied by Noble Knight greeted the kids upon their arrival.

Five days of adventure at the beautiful castle ... chess adventure as we call it. Main goal of the camp was to create an environment where they will have a lot of attention from mentors, coaches, camp councelors and together with those adults they will have a chance to be creative, imaginative, will start believing in their own abilities. Self-esteem is a very important skill that needs to be developed, and in the regular classroom teachers do not have a chance to pay individual attention to every single student. Every single activity was designed to trigger their creativity, imagination, teach them how to work as a team, be patient, empathetic to other people and ... to have fun while learning a very complicated and demanding game of chess. The fairy tale of the Chess Castle, and the King, the Queen, the Knight gave this kids a chance to feel like King's and Queens. There is nothing wrong with recreating a dream and live in it, even if it is only for 5 days at a time!
All the parts of the lodge had the proper names as in a real castle, for example, on the picture below you see boys' bedroom: knight's room.
Grounds around the castle were helping to create the atmosphere of a very special place, where every kid is a winner.
Before every single meal, one of the coaches was congratulating kids on what they were able to accomplish so far, and was announcing which 7-8 kids would eat at a special Great Hall- separate tower shaped dining area. Selection was made based on the criteria of team work, showing responsible behavior, taking initiative, asking a lot of questions, being a good sport, showing excellent leadership skills. Selection was made through the day for every single meal, therefore almost every single kid had a chance to be selected.

In the end of each week, kids were imprinting their hands on the banners and their names were written on the shields becoming part of the history of Sibun Castle.

In the end of each week kids were receiving certificates of participation as well as awards for Sportsmasnhip, Attitude, Effort and various other positive skills that were displayed by the participants. Our coaches and camp councelors tried to catch the kids doing the "right things" during the camp and not let it go unnoticed.
We use chess as an educational tool, and we want our chess players to be well educated, well rounded, creative. We love chess, but our camp activities were very diverse and besides playing chess we incorporated Art....
.. physical activities... such as swimming and football..

..and learned and new game: badminton, that requires very serious body and mind coordination...Team building activities are very important in our camps. ON the first day kids do not know how to work as a team, they get angry with each other, frustrated and blame each other for not being able to win as a team. By the end of the camp, they know that team work makes everything better. On this picture: the whole team, 10 people have to stand on the tarp and flip it over from under their feet without stepping off the tarp. It is very challenging believe me. They must communicate with each other, help each other, use problem-solving skills. And at some point one of the kids learns to be a leader, who gives clear direction that will lead to the successful completion of the activity.
They learn how to be a team..Spelling and Math were incorporated in a lot of chess activities:

Math activity: Chess Sculpture competition. Kids had not only to come up with the best looking sculpture utilizing all their pieces, they had in the end to calculate the combined value of the structure, by adding the number of points that each chess piece has, utilizing different strategies to calculate it with their partner. That one activity requires: team work, patience, persistence, math, creativity, problem solving, anger management...and much more. Dancing competition allowed the kids not only to learn how the King moves, but also have incredible amount fun with it. Lyrics of the song "I am the King" described the new concept- chess Rules for the King- and had a very energizing music to it. All the worksheets were created by Nathan Goldberg, my friend from NY, who also send me the CD with the chess songs as well as many chess books that made our life soooo much more easier. Visualization is a very important skill for math and reading and a lot of other subjects, as well as for playing chess of course! Below you will see David Martinez modeling for kids how to play chess blindfolded. On the next picture, you can see doing the simplified version of it: moving the knight blindfolded. It is a very difficult task, try it yourself to appreciate the challenge!
How does it feel to be a King or a Queen? We played life size chess.... By the way, all the costumes were hand made by the camp councelor Irianie Pech and her family from Corozal!
Have you ever had a chance to be a King? Well, as the kids realized it is a tough job- the King is the one who makes the decisions for the next move...
If you got the impression that everything was easy to accomplish..well, it was quite the opposite. On the day of departure from the camp, all the kids had a chance to do horse riding. For kids, horses looked scary, big, intimidating and some of the kids were refusing to get themselves on the horse, adults who already gained kid's trust were able to convince them to try it, at least try it...... and of course after the trip,kids were galloping back proud of themselves, proud that they overcame their fears. They became winners again, what could be a better way to end the camp?
The horse back riding trip as well as the mount for the Noble Night was provided by John and Carolyne Carr from Banana Bank Resort. The horses were great, and the Banana Bank staff was extremely friendly and caring.

The most important thing is to understand that the process of learning and changing behavior of the kids is a long term project. Therefore, I want to emphasize one more time, that the goal of the foundation is not to have random events, but to continue working with those kids and organize all the volunteers into a network of support, that will be able to pay special attention to those kids through the years to come, develop clubs in all the districts with special attention to the remote villages, run local tournaments and mini camps. Since we cannot possibly be available for all those kids from different districts (After all, we only have a staff of 3 people...), we heavily depend on the volunteers, who will continue working with the kids in the communities.
Right now we are getting ready for the November camp again! Who will be attending? Kids who were selected by their local coaches based on the same criteria: sportsmanship, attitude, most improved and of course the best chess players.
These adults not only were with the kids 24 hours a day in the camp, they became an essential part of those kids' life there and after the camp. Almost all the volunteers who came, currently working with the kids in their communities:
David Coombs- club in Central Farm
Sgt Sho - club in PG at Fairweather BDF camp
Jose Teul- club at San Pedro Columbia, Toledo
Maria Cabral- Placencia
Micah Williams- Hope Creek and Dangriga
Irianie Pech - Belmopan
David Martinez - Belize city
Some volunteers who didn't attend the camp, helped us many other ways. For example, with creating all the props for the castle: Irianie's Pech family and friends spent weeks and weeks on sewing, drawing, printing banners and flags. All Caves branch staff who in addition to their regular job responsibilities of running the lodge were working on painting and decorating the castle and maintaining it through the humid and raining conditions of the summer.
Caves Branch guided, Carlos, Ching and Darrell, worked with me on many other projects. They are not only at the camp for providing safety and monitoring the kids. They are there actively involved in all the activities and councelling. They are the back bone of our camps.
There were many other volunteers, who we are very grateful to for their energy, time and support of the kids! Special thanks to:
Yajaira Coba, Jamal Andrewin, Elsa Cardinez - University of Belize students
Frank Tu- former BCS chess club member, currently UB student
Yadira Montejo- parent from Corozal

Yoshika- Japanese volunteer

Kenrick MArtinez- BDF

Mik Cabral - camp councelor, HS student, Placencia

Ellra Alvarez - Toledo community volunteer, HS student

Pech family and relatives, from Corozal

Col Lt Pulido, BDF for providing constant support and active participation of the BDF staff

See volunteers in action!

Press and TV coverage: Channel News 5

Jungle chess camp has kids motivated

During July and August this newscast was chock-a-block with our usual run of summer camp stories, covering activities ranging from art to football. That series of reports usually ends when students return to school in September... but with classes postponed for a week by Hurricane Felix we’re able to squeeze in just one more piece. It’s a story by our colleague Brent Toombs and involves perhaps the most unusual summer camp we’ve ever had the privilege to visit.

Brent Toombs, Reporting
Sixteen children in the Stann Creek District are setting out on a journey. One that will take them far away from their various towns and villages, to a strange new land, where noble nights roam on horseback and kings and queens hold court.

King Arnold
“It’s good to be the king”

King Arnold and Queen Gwendolyn rule over the Sibun kingdom, where for the next five days, these young Belizeans have come to learn all about the game of chess.

King Arnold
“My queen and I have long awaited your visit and now that you’re here, we’ll be watching you guys and just monitoring you to see if we can leave our kingdom in your hands.”

While Arnold the First may be the monarch, the real power behind the throne rests with Ella Anderson. A career educator, Anderson moved to New York from her native Russia, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and for nearly a decade, she worked in some of the toughest intercity schools, running a program that used chess as a learning tool.

Ella Baron Anderson, Dir., Bz. Nat’l Youth Chess Foundation
“They were the worst schools in the neighbourhood, where nobody even wants to go to teach. You come into the classroom where literally you see the chairs flying in the air because the kids just have absolutely no control of their emotions, their anger management. We come to teach chess and all of a sudden, something changes.”

So when Anderson moved to Belize two and a half years ago, she began looking for ways to get children in this country to take up the sport she loves, chess.

Ella Baron Anderson
“It’s such a small country that if I will put enough of my energy and if I will find enough people who will be as passionate about chess as I am, who will understand all the benefits that the chess brings, we will be able to turn the whole new generation of kids into chess players.”

Anderson’s efforts have come to fruition in the form of the Sibun Kingdom Chess Camp. For five weeks this summer, over one hundred children from all corners of Belize, spent five days each living in a converted castle on the banks of the Sibun River, learning not only the game of chess but developing skills that will help them with self-esteem and confidence.

Ella Baron Anderson
“Besides the chess as a game, you can start noticing all these other things that’s happening in the kids mind. They start feeling good about themselves. As they start playing chess, it also starts from scratch. They don’t know anything about the game and all of a sudden you can see them as the day progresses. They started feeling and they go ‘Oh, I won the game!’ For them, maybe this is the first time they succeeded in something.”

Many of these campers have never played the game before. To a beginner, chess can seem overwhelmingly difficult. However, Anderson breaks it down to its simplest form.

Ella Baron Anderson
[To Students] “During the pawn game, the only piece that moves is the pawn, because we don’t have any other pieces on the board. Why?—because it’s the same thing as basketball, before you play full court, you have to learn how to deal with the ball right.”

“We can break it down in such small pieces that even the slowest kid will have a chance to succeed, at a different pace; but he will learn slowly slowly from the single concept ‘what a straight line is’ to actually how to play the game.”

[To Students] “So after she moves, take your time, don’t move anything. Just think, is there anything I can capture?”

Assisting at the chess camp are a number of volunteers coaches and counsellors. Most have a personal interest in the game, such as Frank Tu of Belmopan, one of Belize’s top ranked players, or Peace Corp volunteer Micah Williams, who is working to promote chess in the Stann Creek District.

Micah Williams, Peace Corps Volunteer
“I brought some of the kids that I worked with already in Dangriga to this chess camp, and then when we go back, the 4H clubs that I have started already will start chess clubs with those same kids.”

But for U.B. student Irianie Pech, her attraction top the camp has little to do with the game itself.

Irianie Pech, U.B. Student/ Mentor
“Even though I’m not a chess player, I really got motivated by the cause, the organisation; I really love what they are doing. My role ranges from different stages, from being the one in charge of coordinating different activities in the morning to the afternoon, to helping a sick child or just giving a hug to a child who is homesick.”

During the week, not all of the activities take place indoors, or even involve chessboards. There are plenty of other things to keep the kids busy, such as badminton, football, swimming and even horseback riding, but according to Anderson, there is a reason for everything.

Ella Baron Anderson
“A lot of times, when we start doing a different activity which is scary for the kids, they’re scared. They’re afraid of the horses, the horses are big and they never did it before, right. The kids started feeling scared and all of a sudden, we who were the chess coaches before, we said ‘of course you feel scared’. In stead of denying that feeling we will go on the human level, ‘of course you feel that way’, but that’s how you felt five days ago when you had all these pieces in front of you and you had no idea how to play it. And you were afraid to play some of the kids who were much stronger than you were, this is the same thing; you will overcome it, you will feel good about yourselves.”

Of course, everything always comes back to the game of chess, and by the end of the five days, these campers have a pretty good handle on the game; you could even say that a once obscure sport has come to life.

Kyra Villafranco
“Sometimes chjess teach you more about how you listen, directions and how to be better at more things.”

Carlos Valtoro
“When I reach home I will tell my family I want to come here again.”

Arrie Gentle
“I’m going straight to buy the chessboard and the chess pieces at the store, and just go home, tell my mother about the trip and start to play it.”

But like summer vacation itself, all too soon, camp is over, and it’s time for goodbye hugs. And with the new school year just beginning, Anderson and her colleagues hope that the lessons learned at the Sibun Kingdom will translate to the real world.

Micah Williams
“The hope is that they will take away life skills, leadership, teamwork, respect. Those types of skills that you learn from the discipline that chess teaches you that really are what you need to succeed in general.”

The Belize National Youth Camp Foundation plans to continue to promote the game by holding a number of mini-camps and tournaments throughout the year. It is hoped that the Sibun Kingdom will be able to host even more campers next summer. The majority of costs for the camp were underwritten by Ian Anderson’s Cave’s Branch Adventure Company.

Chess camp, Level 2: November 2007. Please visit this site to see the updates! It was absolutely terrific to see how much our kids matured as chess players. Sorry, no pictures here yet, because we were sooooo busy with other events....Check our http://chessinbelize.blogspot.com to see current events in all districts!