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Teenagers Found Children's Chess Club In Gaza, Reach Millions On Instagram
A teenage duo started a chess club for displaced children in Gaza. Photo: Karawan Chess Club.

Teenagers Found Children's Chess Club In Gaza, Reach Millions On Instagram

TarjeiJS
| 46 | Chess.com News

In war-torn Gaza, a teenage duo has captured the hearts of millions online with inspiring videos showcasing a chess initiative for displaced children.

"Day 1 of sharing our daily routine in war zone."

Those are the words of the teenage duo behind the Herz and Omar Show, a daily vlog on Instagram that has captivated millions in the last month. Their videos document the dystopian conditions of their daily life in Gaza, which a UN official has described as a "human chessboard" due to the lack of space and anywhere to go.

The friends have now turned into Instagram stars as their follower count has skyrocketed to more than 800,000, thanks to regular videos with remarkable positivity and humor, and helped by media attention from U.K, India, and Italy.

A few months ago, 18-year-old Omar Rasheed and 19-year-old Mohammad Herzalah, together with 17-year-old Mustafa Saleh, founded the Karawan Chess Club, a sanctuary for displaced Palestinian children. The club offers a much-needed escape and a semblance of normalcy, allowing children to experience joy amidst the turmoil. 

Their chess initiative is regularly featured in their daily vlogs, sharing preparations for their tournaments, lessons, and prize-givings. In one episode, Omar and Mohammad described a visit to the chess club: "We saw the children and greeted them. Then we split them into two teams to play against each other. It was a fascinating day, and we had fun with the children."

We saw the children and greeted them. Then we split them into two teams to play against each other. It was a fascinating day, and we had fun with the children.

In another episode, they shared: "We started the day by going to the chess club, we saw the children and made them ready for the next tournament. We went to the cafe, where we played chess."

Scenes from their videos show children playing next to destroyed buildings, with the threat of Israeli strikes upon them. In one recent video they said: "And in our way we saw an aid plane flying above us. And some scenes of the suffering of Gazan children in bottling water."

Some of the activities can be seen on the club's Instagram account.

Chess.com has not been able to get in touch with the two friends, but Needa Karawan, Omar's aunt, explained that her nephew started playing chess in middle school, and learned the game by himself. He reads chess books and has become fascinated with the game.

"Omar told me he was playing chess at a cafe and teaching kids at the house where he stayed with 45+ people. I suggested starting a chess club, and I would sponsor it. He got excited and took charge of the logistics and teaching, inviting his friend to teach the kids," his aunt said.

Omar told me he was playing chess at a cafe and teaching kids at the house where he stayed with 45+ people. (...) He got excited and took charge of the logistics and teaching, inviting his friend to teach the kids.

—Omar Rasheed's aunt to Chess.com

The club started with more than 20 children, while 16 became regular members. "The chess club was hosted three times a week, with an emphasis on celebrating and introducing the kids to other cultural events. For example, kids celebrated Mother's Day and were introduced to female chess players, Easter celebration, and Eid Celebration."

Chess lessons at the Karawan Chess Club.
Chess lessons at the Karawan Chess Club.

The club has its home in Dir Al Balah, where a football stadium has turned into a refugee camp for displaced families from Gaza. In one comment on Instagram, they said the area is calmer, "even though bombings still happen."

Omar's aunt also says the friends faced numerous challenges, such as finding enough chessboards and basic teaching tools, as many stores in Gaza have been destroyed.

Children in Gaza have not attended school since October, so the club is about more than chess, Karawan says: "It is to provide children with some fun education using the game of chess and to bring smiles to their faces amidst the horrible circumstances they are going through. It is about giving back to Gaza and paying it forward."

Photo: Karawan Chess Club
Photo: Karawan Chess Club

According to their GoFundMe page, where more than $50,000 has been raised, Omar and Mohammad wants to escape the war and rebuild their lives out of Gaza and pursue higher education. Karawan tells Chess.com that Saleh and his family left the territory in late April.

TarjeiJS
Tarjei J. Svensen

Tarjei Svensen is a Norwegian chess journalist who worked for some of the country's biggest media outlets and appeared on several national TV broadcasts. Between 2015 and 2019, he ran his chess website mattogpatt.no, covering chess news in Norwegian and partly in English.

In 2020, he was hired by Chess24 to cover chess news, eventually moving to Chess.com as a full-time chess journalist in 2023. He is also known for his extensive coverage of chess news on his X/Twitter account.

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