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


Nelly Cheboi, who in 2019 left a successful software engineering job in Chicago to create a computer lab for Kenyan school children, is CNN’s 2022 Hero of the Year.

Online voters chose him from among CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of the year.

Cheboi’s non-profit organization, TechLit Africa, has given thousands of students in rural Kenya access to donated, upgraded computers – and a chance at a better future.

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

As CNN’s Hero of the Year, Cheboi will receive $100,000 to expand his career. He and the other 10 CNN Heroes honored at Sunday’s gala are all receiving a $10,000 cash prize and, for the first time, additional grants, corporate training and support from The Elevate Prize Foundation through a new partnership with CNN Heroes. Nelly will also be named the winner of the Lift Award, which comes with a $300,000 grant and an additional $200,000 worth of support for her non-profit 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 ache because of hunger at night.”

A diligent student, Cheboi received a full scholarship to Augustana College in Illinois in 2012. He began his studies there with no computer experience, hand writing papers and struggling to type them on a laptop.

Everything changed in his junior year, though, when Cheboi took a programming course required for his math major.

“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,” he told CNN.

Most basic computer skills were still a learning curve, however. Cheboi recalls having to practice touch typing for six months before passing the coding interview. Touch typing is a skill that is now a core part of the TechLit curriculum.

“I feel very successful to see children who are 7 years old to type by touch, knowing that I learned how to type less than five years ago,” he said.

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

“We have children here (Kenya) – including me, in the past – who don’t even know what a computer is,” he said.

So, in 2018, he started shipping donated computers back to Kenya – in his personal luggage, handling customs and duties himself.

“One time, I was bringing 44 computers, and I paid more for the luggage than I paid for the plane ticket,” he said.

A year later, he founded TechLit Africa with a fellow software engineer after they both quit their jobs. The non-profit organization accepts computer donations from companies, universities and individuals.

The hardware is cleared and repaired before being shipped to Kenya. There, it is distributed to partner schools in rural communities, where students aged 4 to 12 receive daily classes and frequent opportunities to learn from professionals, gain skills that will help improve their education and better prepare them for future jobs. .

“We have people who have specific skills coming in and they’re just inspiring kids (with) music production, video production, coding, personal branding,” Cheboi said. “They can go from doing a remote class with NASA on education to music production.”

The organization currently serves 10 schools; within the next year, Cheboi hopes to collaborate with 100 others.

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

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Watch when the CNN Hero of the Year is announced

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

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

Actress Aubrey Plaza introduced CNN hero Aidan Reilly, who launched his nonprofit while home from college during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“From his deathbed, Aidan and his friends started the Farmlink Project,” Plaza said. The nonprofit organization connects surplus food from farms across the United States — food that would otherwise go to waste — to those in need. “In just two years, . . . he has moved over 70 million pounds,” Plaza added.

Debra Vines – whose non-profit organization The Answer Inc. supports families affected by autism in underserved communities throughout Chicago – honored by actress Holly Robinson Peete, “the co-mom of autism.”

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

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

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

Ruby Chitsey, a 15-year-old boy from Harrison, Arkansas, founded “Three Wishes for Ruby Residents,” which provides personal items to nursing home residents who could not otherwise afford them.

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

The show also honored two Georgia election workers, Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman’s mother, whose lives were turned around after false allegations that they were involved in election fraud spread on social media.

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

Do you know someone in your community doing amazing things to make the world a better place? Stay tuned to and consider nominating that person as a CNN Hero of 2023. You can also read more about the many CNN 350 Heroes who have helped more than 55 million people in all 50 states of the United States and in more. 110 countries worldwide.


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