RALEIGH, NC — Some children who escaped Taliban rule in Afghanistan are now learning to play chess to help them adjust to life in Raleigh.
Stough Elementary School in Raleigh was the educational home for some of the 1,200 people displaced from Afghanistan to North Carolina.
On April 1, the school day at Stough for these refugee students included a virtual Farsi chess lesson from international grandmaster Elshan Moradiabadi and a chance to play the game.
“It’s been really amazing to watch and watch their growth and development since they’ve been here for a few weeks and months,” Stough manager Chris Cox said in an interview. “Obviously in a new place in a new time where things probably feel very alien to them, it’s something that really gives them a bit of familiarity with something they love as simple as a game of chess.”
Thousands of Afghans who worked for the US government and military have fled the country since the Taliban took over the country last summer.
Afghan refugees move to NC
Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham are among six North Carolina cities accepting 1,200 refugees from Afghanistan, The News & Observer previously reported.
At any one time, no less than 25 Afghan refugees have attended Stough this school year, according to Cox. He said the school and the community have come together to help new students.
Cindy Linton, Stough’s ESL teacher, mentioned her work with refugees to her neighbor, Carol Meyer, executive director of the American Chess Federation. What has emerged is an effort to help teach chess to students as part of their efforts to learn English.
Meyer contacted Moradiabadi, a chess grandmaster who now lives in Durham after emigrating from Iran. In addition to the chess lesson, Meyer provided each student with their own set of chess to keep.
“As an immigrant, I’m one of the lucky ones,” Moradiabadi said in an interview. “It’s the best way to get back to immigrants. For me, doing something with children is not a question.
Will the Taliban ban chess again?
Before the Taliban fell to US military forces in 2001, they banned chess. Meyer and Moradiabadi say there are fears the new Taliban government will reinstate the chess ban.
“The Taliban wanted people to be pious,” 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, lots and lots of things.
Knowledge of chess varied between the students, who played against each other, Cox, Linton, and Meyer.
“The beautiful thing about chess is that it’s a universal game,” Meyer said. “Despite the language barriers in this room, the children were able to learn how to move the pieces, sit up and play a basic game, even though they might not speak the same language as the person they were up against. they were playing. We think it’s a great unifier.
What Cox said he would remember fondly of that day was the “twinkle in their eyes” when the students played chess.
“It was really great to see the kids excited and that’s all any of us as public educators would want to see are engaged and excited kids to be here to learn every day” , Cox said.