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A Holiday Surprise in Namibia Print E-mail
By Randy Wheeless   
December 19, 2006

by Randy Wheeless
Several months ago, I received an email from Africa. At first, I thought it was one of those “scam” emails I’ve gotten before … from someone in Africa asking for help in moving $24 million from some overseas bank account. I was about to hit the delete button when …

Wait a minute! This was from Will Garneau – a Peace Corps volunteer, who said he used to live in Durham. Now, he was teaching kids in the town of Otjituuo in the African nation of Namibia.

In his letter, Will explained that his school resources were scarce, but he did have two rather worn chess sets in his classroom. As you might expect, the sets were getting quite a workout from the kids. His request was simple – did we have any sets we could send him?

The North Carolina State Scholastic Championships had ended recently, so I asked Cathy Taggart at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association if she would give me 10 sets to send to Africa. Cathy figured that no one was crazy enough to make up that story, so soon I had my 10 sets.

Getting them to Africa was a bit of a chore. I don’t know if you’ve checked postage and shipping to Namibia lately – but it’s not cheap. To make matters worse, the U.S. Post Office can’t really make any guarantees about the package ever getting there.

“Too late to turn back now,” I thought. So my wife Anita (greatest packer of all-time) packaged the sets one weekday and took them down to the post office. Off they went to Namibia.

For the next few weeks, I heard nothing. I started to think that African warlords were playing bughouse with our sets. But finally I heard from Will. The sets had arrived.

Were you ever this patient with a present?

“Thanks so much for a donation that was really amazing,” he wrote. “It made the kids at Otjituuo very happy. I have worked individually with the learners to help them develop their skills. The sets have been borrowed every day I’ve been here. They are a source of pride for the kids and are treated like ‘manna from heaven.’”

An early Holiday gift for a Namibian classroom.

We need to remember that there are a lot of kids like the ones in Will's class – not only in Namibia, but also in the towns right around us in North Carolina. Spreading our love of chess to others should always be in the back of our minds. To be honest, my effort was rather small – but it had a considerable impact on these African youngsters and I felt good about it.

As we go forward, I challenge you to make some small effort of your own. Look around. Some small effort on your part could have an enormous effect on someone else's life.

Will Garneau continues to teach in Namibia today. You can drop him an email at [email protected]