Nelly Cheboi: CNN’s Hero of the Year 2022

by Naomi Gledhill from London, United Kingdom

"The world is your oyster when you are educated. By bringing the resources, by bringing these skills, we are opening up the world to them."- Nelly Cheboi 

150570Nelly Cheboi accepting her CNN Hero of the Year Award.Wikimedia Commons Software engineer and co-founder of TechLit Africa, Nelly Cheboi, was voted CNN’s Hero of the Year 2022, after quitting her job in Chicago to provide brighter futures for school children across rural Kenya.

Cheboi grew up in Mogotio, rural Kenya, living in a small, tin-roofed house, with holes in the roof and potholes in the floor. In her blog for TechLit Africa, Nelly detailed how she remembers being just eleven years old when deciding she would try to find a way to tackle poverty in her community.[1]

Her mother was often told that she was lucky to have had four daughters rather than sons as the girls could marry, meaning she wouldn’t need to buy land for them. However, despite barely being able to read or write herself, Cheboi’s mother saw value in education and worked tirelessly to afford her daughters an education. Despite working non-stop for days at a time, their situation didn’t improve, as she was making barley enough money to survive.

After studying hard, Nelly Cheboi was offered a full scholarship to Augustana College, Illinois in 2012, with almost no experience with computers. In junior year, she had to complete a programming course as part of her mathematics major; despite competing against students who had been coding since they were very young, Cheboi loved the course and persevered, eventually leading her to get a job in the software industry.

In 2016, Nelly Cheboi launched Zawadi Preparatory. At its launch, she admitted 30 children and less than three years later, there were 150 students. Her work in the software industry highlighted to Cheboi just how many working computers were being discarded as companies upgraded. So, in 2018, she began wiping and refurbishing the unused hardware before shipping them to Kenya to build a computer lab at Zawadi Prep.

She once took 44 computers over in a single trip and ended up paying more for the luggage than for the flight itself! Cheboi handled all of the taxes and custom fees herself before, in 2019, she co-founded TechLit Africa and started accepting donations from companies, universities and individuals alike. The non-profit is currently paired with ten schools across Kenya, though Cheboi hopes this will increase by 100 over the next year.

CNN provide the top ten heroes of the year with a $10,000 reward as well as training and grants provided by their partner, The Elevate Prize Foundation. As the winner, Nelly Cheboi is also to win $100,000 to help expand her work. She is also to be an Elevate Prize Winner, receiving a $300,000 grant, along with another $200,000 worth of support with her organization.

150571Nelly Cheboi with her mother at the CNN Hero of the Year Awards Ceremony.Wikimedia CommonsNelly Cheboi accepted the award on December 11 2022 at the CNN Heroes ceremony. She invited her mother to the stage, and sang a meaningful song from her childhood, meaning “My hands are so tiny, I cannot help you. But when I grow up, I’m going to show you the world.”[2] Cheboi thanked CNN for enabling her to fulfil her lifelong promise to her mother.

[1] Cheboi, Nelly. Founding TechLit Africa. [Online] Available

[2] Escobedo, Tricia. Nelly Cheboi, who creates computer labs for Kenyan schoolchildren, is CNN’s Hero of the Year. [Online] Available

Page created on 2/1/2023 2:44:28 PM

Last edited 2/1/2023 2:52:48 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.


Escobedo, Tricia. Nelly Cheboi, who creates computer labs for Kenyan schoolchildren, is CNN’s Hero of the Year. [Online] Available

Cheboi, Nelly. Founding TechLit Africa. [Online] Available