This CNN hero recycles old computers to open up new worlds for young Kenyans

From an early age, Cheboy realized that her family, like others like her in their village, were stuck in a cycle that left them with little hope.

“She worked very hard and I still went to bed hungry. I was still sent home to study. I was still living in a flooded house,” said Cheboy, now 29. looking at the community and the suffering, it just became so clear that I needed to do something.”

Cheboy went to college on a scholarship in the United States, worked odd jobs to support her family, and discovered her passion for computer science. She believes that computer literacy helps her find work and earn money doing what she loves. She knew she wanted to share this with her community at home.

Today, she is giving 4,000 children a chance at a brighter future through her non-profit organization TechLit Africa. The organization, whose name is short for Tech Literate Africa, is using recycled computers to build technology labs in schools in rural Kenya.

“I know the pain of poverty, and that’s why I’m so passionate about it,” says Cheboy, a software engineer who lives between the US and Kenya. “I will never forget what it feels like to have my stomach churning with hunger at night.”

In 2012, Cheboy received a full scholarship to Augustana College in Illinois and began her studies with little or no computer experience. She wrote the papers by hand and struggled to decipher them on her laptop. She said she never felt comfortable with a computer until her freshman year, when she took the Java course required for her math major.

“When I discovered computer science, I just fell in love with it. I knew this was what I wanted to do as my career and also bring it to my community,” she said.

Cheboy switched to a dual major and received a bachelor’s degree. However, she says that skills like touch typing, which were easy for some, were still a cool learning curve for her. At some point after graduating from college, she had to practice for six months before she could pass a programming interview. This is a skill that is now a core part of the TechLit curriculum.

“I feel so happy seeing kids who are 7 touch typing knowing that I learned how to touch type less than five years ago,” she said.

CNN Hero Nelly Cheboy

Cheboy built relationships with businesses in her profession and began accepting scrap computers from them in 2018. She started small, driving cars to Kenya in registered bags and paying customs and taxes herself.

“At some point, I brought 44 computers with me and paid more for luggage than for an airline ticket,” she said.

TechLit Africa is now working with trucking and shipping companies to transport donated computers, making it more cost-effective. Donated equipment is cleaned, repaired and distributed to partner schools in rural Kenya, where students aged 4 to 12 attend classes daily and often have the opportunity to learn from professionals and gain skills that will help improve their education and prepare them for their future jobs. .

“Skilled people come to us and they just inspire kids (through) music making, video production, coding, personal branding,” Cheboy said. “They can go from distance learning at NASA to making music with our artists.”

The Cheboy organization maintains ownership of the computers online and on site, providing technical support, software updates, and troubleshooting. TechLit Africa is installing new kid-friendly client operating systems and schools are being asked to pay a small fee for the service, which includes TechLit educators on site from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

The organization currently serves 10 schools, and Cheboy hopes to partner with 100 more schools by early next year.

“My hope is that when the first TechLit kids graduate from high school, they can find jobs online because they know how to code, they know how to do graphic design, they know how to do marketing,” Cheboy said. . “The world is your oyster when you are educated. By providing resources, by providing these skills, we open up the world to them.”

Do you want to take part? Verify TechLit Africa website and see how to help.
To donate to TechLit Africa via GoFundMe, Click here

Briana Duggan of CNN contributed to this report.