UNIVERSAL GAME. Afghan refugee students at Stough Elementary School
learn how to play chess on April 1, 2022 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Pictured clockwise are U.S Chess Federation executive director Carol
Meyer, Stough ESL teacher Cindy Linton, and students Ahmad, Sadiqullah,
and Qudratullah. Stough Elementary in Raleigh has been the educational
home for some of the 1,200 people being relocated from Afghanistan to
North Carolina. (Keung Hui/The News & Observer via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V32, #5 (May 2, 2022), page 8.
Chess helps Afghan refugee students adjust to life
By T. Keung Hui
The News & Observer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) ó Some children who escaped the Taliban regime in
Afghanistan are now learning to play chess to help them adjust to life
Stough Elementary School in Raleigh has been the educational home for
some of the 1,200 people being relocated from Afghanistan to North
On April 1, the school day at Stough for those refugee students
included a virtual chess lesson in Farsi from international grandmaster
Elshan Moradiabadi and a chance to play the game.
"Itís just been really amazing to watch and see their growth and
development since theyíve been here the last few weeks and months,"
Stough principal Chris Cox said in an interview. "Obviously in a new
place at a new time where things are probably feeling very foreign to
them, this is something that really gives them a little bit of
familiarity with something that they love as simple as a game of chess."
Thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and military
have fled the country since the Taliban retook the nation last summer.
Afghan refugees relocate to N.C.
Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham are among six cities in North Carolina
that are accepting 1,200 refugees from Afghanistan, The News &
Observer previously reported.
At any given time, as many as 25 Afghan refugees have attended Stough
this school year, according to Cox. He said the school and community
have come together to help the new students.
Cindy Linton, Stoughís ESL teacher, mentioned her work with the
refugees to her neighbor, Carol Meyer, executive director of the U.S.
Chess Federation. What emerged is an effort to help teach the students
chess as part of their efforts to learn English.
Meyer reached out to Moradiabadi, a chess grandmaster who now lives
in Durham after having emigrated from Iran. In addition to the chess
lesson, Meyer provided each student with their own chess set to keep.
"Being an immigrant, Iím one of the fortunate ones," Moradiabadi said
in an interview. "This is the best way to return to immigrants. For me
to do something with kids, is not a question."
Will the Taliban ban chess again?
Before the Taliban fell in 2001 to U.S. military forces, it had
banned chess. Meyer and Moradiabadi say there is fear that the new
Taliban government will reinstitute a ban on chess.
"The Taliban wanted people to be devout," Meyer said in an interview.
"Their worldview was shaped by being devout Muslims, and something like
chess takes away from being a student of your religion. So they banned
chess, music, many, many things."
The chess knowledge varied among the students, who played against one
another, Cox, Linton, and Meyer.
"The beautiful thing about chess is that itís a universal game,"
Meyer said. "Despite language barriers in this room, the kids were able
to learn how to move the pieces and sit down and play a basic game even
though they may not have spoken the same language as the person they
were playing against. We think itís a great unifier."
What Cox said heíll fondly remember about that day is the "twinkle in
their eyes" as the students played chess.
"It was definitely great to see the kids excited and thatís anything
that any of us as public educators would want to see is kids engaged and
excited to be here learning each and every day," Cox said.
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