Nelly Cheboi, who creates computer labs for Kenyan schoolchildren, is CNN’s Hero of the Year


Nelly Cheboiwho left a lucrative job as a software engineer in Chicago in 2019 to create computer labs for Kenyan schoolchildren, is CNN’s hero of the year 2022.

Online voters chose her from the CNN’s Top 10 Heroes.

Cheboi’s non-profit organization, TechLit Africa, has provided thousands of students across rural Kenya with access to donated and recycled computers – and the chance for a better future.

Cheboi accepted the award with her mother, who she said “worked very hard to educate us.” At the start of her acceptance speech, Cheboi and her mother sang a song on stage that she said had special meaning when she was growing up.

As CNN Hero of the Year, Cheboi will receive $100,000 to expand her work. She and the 10 other CNN Top Heroes honored at Sunday’s gala all receive a $10,000 cash prize and, for the first time, additional grants, organizational training and support from the Elevate Prize Foundation thanks to a new collaboration with CNN Heroes. Nelly will also be named the winner of the Elevate Award, which comes with a $300,000 grant and additional support worth $200,000 for her nonprofit organization.

Cheboi grew up in poverty in Mogotio, a rural township in Kenya. “I know the pain of poverty,” said Cheboi, 29. “I never forgot what it was like to have a stomach in knots from hunger at night.”

A diligent student, Cheboi received a full scholarship to Augustana College in Illinois in 2012. She began her studies there with almost no experience with computers, handwriting papers and struggling to transcribe them onto a laptop. .

However, that all changed in her freshman year, when Cheboi took a required programming course for her math major.

“When I discovered computing, I fell in love with it. I knew it was something I wanted to do in my career, and also bring it to my community,” she told CNN.

However, many basic computer skills were still a steep learning curve. Cheboi remembers having to practice typing for six months before he could take a coding interview. Typing is a skill that has become an integral part of the TechLit curriculum.

“I feel so accomplished seeing 7-year-olds typing, knowing that I just learned to type less than five years ago,” she said.

Once she started working in the software industry, Cheboi soon realized how computers were being thrown away as companies upgraded their technology infrastructure.

“We have kids here (in Kenya) – myself included, back then – who don’t even know what a computer is,” she said.

So in 2018, she started bringing donated computers back to Kenya – in her personal luggage, handling customs and taxes herself.

“At one point I was bringing 44 computers and paid more for luggage than airfare,” she said.

A year later, she co-founded TechLit Africa with a fellow software engineer after the two quit their jobs. The nonprofit accepts computer donations from businesses, universities, and individuals.

Equipment is cleaned and refurbished before being shipped to Kenya. There, it is distributed to partner schools in rural communities, where students aged 4 to 12 receive daily lessons and frequent opportunities to learn from professionals, acquiring skills that will help them improve their education and better their lives. prepare for future jobs.

“We have people with a specific skill coming in and just inspiring kids (with) music production, video production, coding, personal branding,” Cheboi said. “They can go from a distance learning course with NASA on music production education.”

The organization currently serves 10 schools; over the next year, Cheboi hopes to be associated with 100 others.

“I hope when the first TechLit kids graduate from high school, they can get online jobs because they can code, they can do graphic design, they can do marketing,” Cheboi said. “The world is your oyster when you are educated. By bringing the resources, by bringing those skills, we open the world up to them.”

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Watch the moment CNN’s Hero of the Year is announced

CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Kelly Ripa co-hosted the 16th annual “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” which featured more than a dozen celebrity presenters.

“We are deeply honored to be here,” said actress and singer Sofia Carson, who performed a song with award-winning songwriter Diane Warren at the event. “Diane wrote this amazing ‘Applause’ anthem for those who lead, survive and fight and tonight we dedicate this song and this performance to our heroes.”

Actor Aubrey Plaza introduced CNN Hero Aidan Reillywho launched his non-profit organization on his way home from college during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“From his pandemic couch, Aidan and his friends co-founded Farmlink Project,” Plaza said. The nonprofit connects surplus food from farms across the United States – food that would otherwise be wasted – to those in need. “In just two years he.. moved over £70m,” Plaza added.

debra vines — whose nonprofit The Answer Inc. supports families affected by autism in Chicago’s underserved communities — was honored by actress Holly Robinson Peete, a “other autistic mom.”

Vines says his group has provided programs and counseling to more than 4,000 families. “Join me and be a servant of change today,” Vines said as he accepted his award.

And Emmy-winning actor Justin Theroux brought his rescue dog Kuma to the stage to honor Carie Broecker and his non-profit organization, Peace of Mind Dog Rescue.

Two teens who are making a difference in their communities were also honored as 2022 Young Wonders:

Ruby Chitsey, a 15-year-old from Harrison, Arkansas, started “Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents,” which donates personal items to nursing home residents who otherwise couldn’t afford them. pay.

Sri Nihal Tammana, a 13-year-old from Edison, New Jersey, started “Recycle My Battery,” which keeps used batteries out of the ecosystem through a network of collection bins.

The show also featured two Georgia election officialsShaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, whose life was turned upside down after false allegations that they were involved in electoral fraud circulated on social media.

CNN has partnered with GoFundMe to enable donations to the top 10 winners of this year. GoFundMe is the world’s largest fundraising platform that empowers people and charities to give and receive help. Supporters can donate online to CNN’s Top 10 Heroes nonprofits directly from Subaru matches all donations up to $50,000 for each of this year’s winners through January 3, 2023.

Do you know someone in your community who is doing amazing things to make the world a better place? Keep an eye on and consider nominating that person as a CNN Hero in 2023. You can also learn about many of the 350 former CNN Heroes who have helped more than 55 million people in all 50 US states and more than 110 countries across the world.

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