Mayele Josh Aksante is a former sponsored student of Xavier Project. Aksante got involved with Xavier Project back in 2013 when he enrolled on our English Language programme for children. Following that he joined our sponsorship programme in Kampala, Uganda, in 2014. Thanks to the sponsorship of St Mary’s Hall parents and teachers, he was able to undertake his high-school studies in Kampala.
When Mayele was grieving the death of his father in 2020, he left Kampala and returned to Nakivale Refugee Settlement. He took his chessboard with him and he found it to be a source of relaxation and a way to calm his mind. He began to involve other children and saw the benefits it had on them socially and psychosocially. That’s when he was inspired to start Raise Chess Academy (RCA), a youth-led refugee-led organisation that unites refugee children and helps them overcome psychosocial trauma through games. We are so proud of Aksante and his incredible achievements. We know that refugees are capable of leading the change in their communities and Aksante is proof that this is possible!
Recently during a virtual catch-up, Aksante shared more with Xavier Project about his personal journey and how Raise Chess Academy came to be.
Xavier Project: Tell us about how it all started.
Mayele: The program started in 2020 when I lost my father. I was passing through difficulties and thought a lot about what will happen to my family. By then I did not know that I had a great tool that will help me overcome the troubles I was facing. That is when I brought out my chessboard, started playing and with time, I found out that this game is helpful to me. I also saw that most refugees are passing through challenges and are thinking about the situations they are in. I realised that this game can transform other people… If it has helped me, it can help hundreds of refugee children living in refugee camps.
Xavier Project: How was it like growing up as a child?
Mayele: We came to Uganda in 2011 as refugees running away from discrimination, conflict, insecurity, famine and wars in Congo. It was not safe to continue staying there. I was about 10 years old and when I arrived, I got a chance to take English classes with Xavier Project. The classes helped in my communication because I was able to speak with different communities and people around Uganda. I also got an opportunity to join Xavier Project’s scholarship program. I am glad that I knew about the organisation since they took me to high school.
Xavier Project: How was your high-school experience like?
Mayele: Although I am done with school now, I had a really amazing time there. Being at school made me get the opportunity to meet new people and also to learn how to present myself. School enabled me to read and write in English, and also learn about different cultures.
Xavier Project: What was your source of inspiration to begin this wonderful organisation, Raise Chess Academy?
Mayele: Since I am a refugee, I understand what it means to live the life of a refugee. This encouraged me to start and help other refugee children since I have been helped before. It was also a great opportunity to give back to the community that I am part of.
Xavier Project: How does it make you feel to do what you do daily?
Mayele: I am super happy that I have time to spend with the kids and have great moments together, including teaching them the English language. Seeing them learn something daily, gain different skills, and also express themselves makes me happy. I do not spend a day without smiling in front of them.
Xavier Project: How do you get the children to sign up for the programs?
Mayele: The children usually come with their parents and sign up at the chess centre. After registering, we see their different abilities and know what to focus on when training them in chess, football and English classes. We currently have more than one hundred and seventy children in the programs.
Xavier Project: How many instructors do you have and how did you get them?
Mayele: We have six instructors who help to teach English. We are still starting stage and do not have funds to pay them so they are volunteering. Sometimes we have challenges getting equipment to use but it’s great that the work is growing, we get help from friends and the community, and we are making progress.
Xavier Project: How did you get the space of operation for the centre?
Mayele: The soccer pitch that we are using is free of charge to the community, as long as one has booked to use it at a specific time. With the help of a friend, we are able to use the Centres for Chess and English free of charge.
Xavier Project: What plans do you have for the future?
Mayele: I want to see kids get opportunities to participate in different competitions in English and Chess. I hope that one day these children will represent the refugee community in the Uganda National Team Soccer Competition
As for my personal plans, I want to see that I have reached enough people that need help. I also want to develop more skills so that I can reach more communities in need and be able to support them. Just like the way I received support when I was in need, I want to give back to the community and support others.