Chess Without Borders: Philanthropy on the Board Print E-mail
By Betsy Dynako   
July 16, 2009
Donationtable.jpgIn May, I visited a chess tournament at the Hough Street Elementary School in Barrington, Illinois to get caught up on the latest event hosted by Chess Without Borders, a non-profit group founded by GM Yury Shulman. Upon entering the typical suburban school, I found two girls selling lemonade to raise funds for Meher, a three-year old Indian girl. Meher’s face and hands were severely burned when the mosquito net covering her bed, which was meant to protect her, caught on fire. Chess Without Borders, in conjunction with Project Why in New Delhi, founded a chess club in the Govindpuri Slum where Meher lives.

At the Chess Without Borders benefit for Mehar, GM Yury Shulman sold his books to raise money for the cause

The club was founded when Nina Sethi asked GM Shulman and Chess Without Borders to donate chess sets and the textbook, “Chess! Lessons From a Grandmaster,” to start the club. When Meher began attending the club, Chess Without Borders committed to providing her with some special help ( ).

To aid Meher, whose injuries included a badly scarred scalp and face, plus a left hand so badly deformed that it was rendered useless, the seed of what has now become a world wide campaign was launched. A surgeon was identified; the kind Dr. Khazanchi, head of the Plastic Surgery Department at a major New Delhi hospital stepped up, offering his skills. The funds required for Meher’s care have thus far have been raised from places such as the chess club at the Berlin Metropolitan School in Germany, which donated 700 euros, and a plastic surgeon in India gave 10,000 rupees. Chess Without Borders is raising funds here in the U.S. as well, including $3,397.30 collected in the Hough Street Elementary School tournament.

That’s right! In one day at a grade school chess tournament in the United States, over $3000 was raised to help a  young chessplayer in India. I couldn’t believe the total when I heard it, but the infectious happy spirit of the volunteers made it possible. The food sold at the concession stand was mostly donated, including cookies and other baked goods that the young students like first grader, Sophia Oliver, helped to bake. Money from the food sales at this and other Chess Without Borders tournaments are always used for a designated charity, often chosen by the students of the school where the event is held. Saagar Prakask Shah, a 10 year old in fifth grade, was happy to sell me a bottle of water.

Betsy Dynako gives an awawrd to Saagar Prakask for community service
He had just received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for putting 100 hours into community service doing jobs just like this.

The highlight of must scholastic chess tournaments is usually the awards ceremony when giant trophies are handed out, but at this event the highlight was a movie screening. Children and parents happily crowded a classroom for a sneak peak of the film “Transforming Lives Through Chess” directed by Biran Gruber. The film is a documentary about the young chess players of Barrington, IL and how they have banned together to help Meher in Indian. Through clothes drives, bake sales and chess tournaments the love of giving that has been instilled in these young people through Chess Without Borders is very touching. The film is not yet completed as Meher is still in need of and undergoing more surgeries. Funds for her treatment are still needed but so are more simple things that Meher and her family and friends lack, like clothing.

Shulman's philanthropic spirit also extends to his summer camps. The 6th Annual Grandmaster Summer Chess Camp featured GM Alexander Onischuk, GM Gregory Kaidanov, and NM Alex Betaneli.

GM Alex Onischuk playing against a Warren Scholar, Michael Auger
The Warren Program funded partial camp scholarships for top kids in each category and Yury matched that with his own discount. These players are part of the Warren Scholars program. The program works to nurture talented Illinois students to be ready for competition on a national and international stage. Currently, Illinois is home to nearly 30 children ranked in the top 35 for their age group in the national. Six Warren Scholars attended the June camp and six more will attend Shulman’s next and final camp of the summer July 27-31 when the all-star teaching team returns. The camp was also peppered full of volunteers like the Eickelbergs, a retired couple who are kept busy with chess activities such as running the chess club at their church that was able to be founded thanks to donations by Chess Without Borders. Joan, who uses a an electric wheel chair to get around says she often runs out of power while helping at chess events.

Joan Eickelberg volunteering at one of Shulman's chess camps

To me Chess Without Borders is an inspiration. I have a long history of volunteer work but it never occurred to me that wide reaching philanthropy could be built on a chess board. Chess Without Borders has started and supports clubs from intercity Chicago and India, to Mexico and Germany. They have been recognized by Dr. Jane Goodall, than Senator Barrack Obama, Prudential, and the Governor of Illinois. While awards and a wide reaching hand are impressive, to me the most special part of what this group does is how it inspires young people to help others. 

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