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Two Palestinian Youngsters Take on the Chess World

Azzoun chess champions, Elias & Nagham are happy to have new space for training.

Elias, 13, and Nagham, 12, are a powerhouse sibling chess duo from Azzoun, a town about 24 km south of Tulkarem in the West Bank.With support from their family and community, they have become top players in their country.
Since August 2011, Elias and Nagham have been training with their coach, Abdel Rahman, also from Azzoun, at the renovated Azzoun Youth Club. CHF, with USAID funding under the Local Government and Infrastructure Program, completed a large upper floor for recreational activities, including chess, table tennis, training classes, discussions, and socializing, for youth and the community. The project complemented existing USAID investments in the club, including new computer labs and training programs.
Chess is extremely important in the Azzoun community, and residents have been known historically for their chess prowess. Now with the renovated club space, one community member told CHF, “We [Azzoun Youth Club] are now a destination that people come to watch major chess events.” There are about 13 committed players, including Elias and Nagham, training regularly at the club, and more are becoming interested all  the time.
Elias and Nagham are training and learning new chess techniques.
Elias and Nagham train there for about 6 hours per week. Before the renovation, there was not enough space for training. Now, they told CHF’s community coordinator, “we can focus…we feel motivated…and have the chance to meet and play with new players and learn new techniques.” Elias told us that it is important for him to play chess every day. It’s a unique game, he explained, one that makes you think, innovate, and challenge yourself. Nagham is sharing the game with other young girls in her class and at the club.
In July 2012, about a year after the club’s opening, both Elias and Nagham traveled to Yakutia, Russia for the Children of Asia Championship to compete and represent their country. While they didn’t bring home the championship, they were exposed to a new culture, met players from all over the world, brought strategies they learned in the tournament back to the club, and made their community proud.
Both Elias and Nagham want to be the first Palestinians to win the world championships. Until then, they will keep training in the Azzoun Youth Club following their coach’s instruction: “sit on your hands; play with your eyes.”
The Local Government and Infrastructure Program is a 5-year initiative implemented by CHF and funded by USAID to provide basic community infrastructure and enhance local government service delivery.