y father died of Aids when I was three years old . From then on, everything in my life changed. My mother, Harriet [played by Lupita Nyong’o in the film] struggled to pay school fees for me, my sister and my brothers. Not only that, but we didn’t have enough money for food. I went to school until I was six, but then I had to drop out. I remember sitting at home alone, watching the other kids go to school in their uniforms. It made me sad to see them going and I was so bored; at school there’s always something interesting going on and you have friends to talk to.
I began helping to bring money into the house by working for my mother’s business, selling corn to people living in Katwe. I hated the job because I had no choice but to do it. My mother needed help paying for our rent and food, which would usually be one meal a day of rice or bananas, if we sold enough. When I was nine years old, we were evicted from our house because we couldn’t afford to pay the rent, so we went to live on the streets. We didn’t have anything to eat or drink; I was always hungry and scared because young girls and women were raped a lot of the time. The most important thing for women to do on the streets is to produce kids, and that’s all. I didn’t want my life to be like that of my mother. I wanted it to be better, but it was hard to dream about life outside of Katwe. There was no one to inspire me because most of the people lived the same life, so it was difficult to think about a world outside of the slum.
One day, my brother Brian told me that they were giving a cup of porridge to children at a local chess club set up by a sports outreach programme. I decided to secretly follow him to the dilapidated church where the club was held and discovered a dozen children playing this strange game I’d never seen before. The coach, a missionary called Robert Katende [played by David Oyelowo in the film], spotted me peering in and invited me to join. But I wasn’t interested in playing chess or making friends with the other children – they teased me for being dirty so I fought with them. All I wanted was the cup of porridge.
There is no word for chess in my local language, Luganda, which is ironic because it is chess, a game that consists of just a board and 16 pieces, that saved my life. When I went back home that day and told my mother, she was not happy with me. She thought chess was another form of gambling, like all the other games people played in the slum, and she warned me not to go back.