Kenyan Nelly Cheboi named CNN Hero of the Year, honours mum and lover

Nelly Cheboi

Kenyan Nelly Cheboi, who has been named the CNN Hero of the Year, celebrates with her mother.

Photo credit: Courtesy | Nelly Cheboi via Facebook

Kenyan Nelly Cheboi has been named the CNN Hero of the Year for creating computer labs for Kenyan children.

Cheboi, 29, who quit her lucrative software engineering job in 2019, was selected by online voters for this year’s Top 10 CNN heroes.

According to CNN, Cheboi will receive $100,000 (Ksh12.3 million) to expand her work as a CNN Hero of the Year.

The organisation that she leads, TechLit Africa, has provided thousands of students across rural Kenya with access to donated, upcycled computers — and the chance at a brighter future.

Having grown up in poverty in Mogotio, Baringo County, Cheboi reveals that she understands quite well the pain of poverty. “I never forgot what it was like with my stomach churning because of hunger at night.”

Thanking her mother for educating her, Cheboi recalled how her mum used to work hard to educate her and her sisters as she did not want them to be married off.

“Schools in Kenya are very expensive and people were telling her ‘you are so lucky you have girls, you don’t have to educate them; they can just get married'. But she really believed in educating us and worked so hard by the roadside for four decades,” she said observing that her mother can barely read and write.

“I would sing to her 'my hands are so tiny they cannot work but when I grow up, I will help you and you will rest',” she sings in Kiswahili disclosing that at that time she was only 4-5 years old.

Also appreciating her life partner, Tyler, Cheboi shared that he is the most talented and selfless person she knows.

“You left your job in Chicago and joined me in Mogotio. Life has been really hard for you in Mogotio, I see that. I see how hard you work for TechIt Africa. You don’t have any connections to Mogotio or Kenya yet you left and baby I love you. Thank you so much for supporting me.”

Cheboi remembers having to practice touch-typing for six months before she could pass a coding interview and it is a skill that is now a core part of the TechLit curriculum.

“I feel so accomplished seeing kids that are 7 years old touch-typing, knowing that I just learned how to touch-type less than five years ago.”

She and the other top 10 CNN Heroes were honoured at Sunday’s gala with all receiving a $10,000 (Sh1.2 million) cash award and, for the first time, additional grants, organisational training, and support from The Elevate Prize Foundation through a new collaboration with CNN Heroes.

Cheboi will also be named the Elevate Prize winner, which comes with a $300,000 (Sh37 million) grant and additional support worth $200,000 (Sh24.6 million) for her non-profit.

Her organisation, TechLit, currently serves 10 schools. Within the next year, Cheboi hopes to be partnered with 100 more.

This article was first published in Nairobi News.