Nelly Cheboi is a 29-year-old Kenyan woman who quit a lucrative software engineering job in Chicago in the United States in 2019 to establish computer labs for Kenyan school children has won the 2022 CNN Hero of the Year. She received the award on Sunday evening at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, US.
She founded the nonprofit organisation, TechLit Africa which offers thousands of students across rural Kenya access to donated, upcycled computers and the chance at a brighter future.
She accepted the award with her mother at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who she said: “worked really hard to educate us.” Cheboi and her mother sang a song onstage at the beginning of her acceptance speech that she explained had a special meaning when she was growing up.
Cheboi will receive $100,000 as CNN Hero of the Year to expand her work. She and other top 10 CNN Heroes honoured at the gala all receive a $10,000 cash award. Additional grants, organisational training and support from The Elevate Prize Foundation through a new collaboration with CNN Heroes are other benefits she will receive.
Cheboi will also be named Elevate Prize winner which comes with a $300,000 grant and additional support worth $200,000 for her nonprofit.
Having grown up in poverty in Mogotio she said “I know the pain of poverty. I never forgot what it was like with my stomach churning because of hunger at night.”
“When I discovered computer science, I just fell in love with it. I knew that this is something that I wanted to do as my career, and also bring it to my community,” she told CNN.
“I feel so accomplished seeing kids that are seven years touch-typing, knowing that I just learned how to touch type less than five years ago,” Cheboi added.
So in 2018, she began transporting donated computers back to Kenya – in her personal luggage, handling custom fees and taxes herself.
The organization currently serves 10 schools, and within the year, Cheboi hopes to be partnered with 100 more.