For some it takes a lifetime to realise their dreams. Indeed for many of us they remain just that, dreams, and are never achieved.
However, a young girl from Tonota is fast turning her fantasies into reality as she continues to take the world of chess in Botswana by storm.
At just nine years old, Naledi Marape’s star burns bright.
She has already forged a reputation as an excellent chess player, being described by the media as ‘Botswana’s Youngest Chess Prodigy’ – extensive coverage that has seen the youngster become something of a celebrity.
Naledi’s ruthless command of the chessboard at such a young age is remarkable and has seen her nominated for the Junior Female Sportsperson of the Year at this year’s Botswana National Sports Commission Awards.
Then again, considering Naledi’s impressive family, maybe her chess expertise is not that surprising.
The chess whizz-kid’s family are all passionate about the sport – including Naledi’s four-year-old brother, Alex, who patiently tries to help me overcome my chess ignorance by identifying the names of the chess pieces and how they move!
Naledi’s older brother, Marape Marape Junior, 13, holds the Botswana National under 12 championship’s title.
Together, the two offer chess lessons to other young people through their Young Chess Grand Masters Academy.
The classes take place under the supervision of their parents, Dr Marape Marape and Anolah Marape.
Anolah, a teacher by profession, owns and runs a career tuition centre and allows her children to host chess classes at the facility.
“All our four children have shown a flair for learning and we are pleased that we are able to provide a conducive environment for them to soar,” explains the proud mother.
One cannot help but marvel at the ethos this family lives by.
The Marape’s drive and passion to support one another is evident and unwavering.
Interestingly, neither parent forced their children to take up the sport – it was during matches between father and son that Naledi asked if she could be taught to play.
It would seem that Naledi has a God-given talent when it comes to chess, the finesse and maturity with which she plays the game belies her tender years.
Similarly, the aggressive style she employs is not in keeping with her seemingly shy, laidback and introverted nature.
However, Naledi explains that she is not shy but takes time to warm up to those she does not know well.
“During a match I’m quite serious, tactful and look out for opportunities to attack my opponent. I want to win and play to win,” she says in a quiet but determined voice.
The young Marape has her sights set on gaining the prestigious World Women Grand Master title, ideally before her thirteenth birthday – through hard work, practice and focus she is confident that she will achieve this dream.
Apart from her love and dedication to chess, Naledi enjoys mathematics.
“It does remind me of chess as it involves solving. I also liken it to solving a puzzle,” she giggles excitedly.
Like most girls her age, she has television shows that she enjoys and loves her extensive collection of Barbie dolls.
A dedicated standard five pupil at Baobab Primary School, Naledi dazzles at school as easily as she does during her chess matches.
She takes on the role of supervising her classmates, ensuring that everyone’s homework is completed satisfactorily.
In addition to being a star pupil, Naledi, as well as Junior, are Sunday school leaders in their church, Village Town International.
Explaining how she manages to excel at so many different activities, she says humbly, “I have a schedule I keep to and this helps me manage my time well. I know what I am supposed to be doing and when.”
The schedule Naledi talks of has been drawn up by her parents, helping the children juggle schoolwork, chess, rest and other commitments.
“We have made it clear to the children that school comes first, then chess and everything else. School is the gateway to all they wish to pursue later in life and this is a lesson we instill in them always,” says Dr Marape.
As a way of encouraging and acknowledging the children’s good work, their parents shower them with gifts, including gadgets and family holidays.
“We are not extravagant but we do what we can to support our children. We make it clear that they understand that when one puts their mind to something they can achieve anything. We also teach them that one should not be defined by a lost match but rather use the loss as a launching pad. After every game we analyse it and seek lessons learnt from it. The idea is to never lose a match from repeated mistakes. Loss presents an opportunity to learn. Like life, playing a match presents highs and lows. The trick lies in learning to pick oneself up, dust off the disappointment and getting right back into the game,” says Dr Marape.
On Naledi’s prestigious BNSC nomination, the family does not hesitate to show how proud they are.
“It is indeed an honour and a great achievement. The nomination to us is already a win.”
Naledi has been nominated alongside formidable sports persons, including swimming sensation, Naomi Ruele, and athletics goddess, Galefele Moroko.
Though she expresses her excitement over the nomination, one cannot shake off the feeling that for Naledi, it’s all in a day’s work.