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


Nelly Cheboiwho in 2019 quit a lucrative software engineering job in Chicago to create computer labs for schoolchildren in Kenya, is CNN’s 2022 Hero of the Year.

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

Cheboi’s nonprofit, TechLit Africa, has given thousands of students in rural Kenya access to donated, recycled computers—and the chance for a brighter future.

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

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

Cheboi grew up in poverty in Mogotio, a rural town in Kenya. “I know the pain of poverty,” Cheboi, 29, said. “I’ve never forgotten what it was like with my stomach churning 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 and struggling to transcribe on a laptop.

That all changed in her junior year, however, when Cheboi took a programming course required for her math major.

“When I discovered computer science, I fell in love with it. I knew this was something I wanted to do as 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 touch typing for six months before she could pass a coding interview. Touch typing is a skill that is now an essential part of the TechLit curriculum.

“It feels so fulfilling to see kids who are 7 touch typing, knowing that I just learned how to touch type less than five years ago,” she said.

Once he started working in the software industry, Cheboi soon realized the extent to which computers were being thrown away as companies upgraded their technology infrastructure.

“We have kids here (in Kenya) — including me back in the day — who don’t even know what a computer is,” she said.

So in 2018, she began transporting the donated computers back to Kenya—in her personal luggage, handling customs and taxes herself.

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

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

Hardware is wiped and refurbished before shipping to Kenya. There, it is distributed to partner schools in rural communities, where students between the ages of 4 and 12 receive daily classes and frequent opportunities to learn from professionals, gaining skills that will help them improve their education and prepare them for good for future jobs.

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

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

“My hope is that when the first TechLit kids graduate high school, they’ll be able to get a job online because they’ll know how to code, they’ll know how to do graphic design, they’ll know how to do marketing,” Cheboi. said. “The world is your oyster when you are educated. By bringing the resources, by bringing these skills, we open up the world to them.”

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Watch as 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 so 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 incredible anthem ‘Applause’ for those who lead, survive and fight and tonight we dedicate this song and show to our heroes.”

Actor Aubrey Plaza introduced CNN Hero Aidan Reillywho launched his nonprofit while home from college during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“From his pandemic couch, Aidan and his friends co-founded the Farmlink Project,” said Plaza. The nonprofit connects excess food from U.S. farms — food that would otherwise go to waste — with those in need. “In just two years, he … moved over £70 million,” 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 “fellow autistic mom.”

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

And Emmy Award-winning actor Justin Theroux brought his rescue dog, Kuma, on stage to honor Carrie Broecker and her nonprofit, Peace of Mind Dog Rescue.

Two teenagers making a difference in their communities were also honored as Young Wonders 2022:

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 could not otherwise afford them.

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 was also honored two workers from GeorgiaShaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, whose lives were turned upside down after false allegations that they were involved in electoral fraud spread on social media.

CNN partnered with GoFundMe to activate donations to this year’s top 10 awardees. GoFundMe is the world’s largest fundraising platform that empowers people and charities to give and receive help. Supporters can donate online to CNN Heroes’ Top 10 nonprofits directly from Subaru is matching all donations up to $50,000 for each of this year’s honorees 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 read more about many of the past 350 CNN Heroes who have helped more than 55 million people in all 50 US states and more than 110 countries around the world.

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