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Nelly Cheboi: The making of CNN Hero of the Year

On December 12, 2022, Nelly Cheboi was named the CNN Hero of the Year for creating computer labs for Kenyan children.

The 29-year-old was voted the winner from among the Top 10 CNN Heroes who were seeking the $100,000 (Sh12.3 million) prize money.

When Ms Cheboi was named the winner, the internet was filled with congratulatory messages from all over the world with President William Ruto leading Kenyans to celebrate her achievement.

But behind her achievement is the untold story of how she grew up in a remote area in Baringo County.

In an interview aired on Spice FM on Tuesday, Ms Cheboi recounted how her early life in Mogotio town was full of challenges that strengthened her to work harder.

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Ms Cheboi said her thirst for education saw her studying in the cold at a nearby hospital taking the advantage of the security lights to read.

“We did not have kerosene, so I used to study at Mogotio Hospital’s verandah till midnight which was not safe for a girl,” Ms Cheboi narrated.

Despite all these challenges, she emerged as the top KCPE candidates in the district. She then proceeded to Maryhill Girls High School in Thika.

She did well in KCSE and through Zawadi Africa Education Fund, she secured a scholarship in the US.

Zawadi Africa Education Fund is a programme designed to provide scholarships to academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds from Africa to pursue higher education.

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Ms Cheboi says she was privileged to get the scholarship, and her humble background almost shuttered her dreams.

“When I got the scholarship I didn’t have a passport, I didn’t have an air ticket… then I met Raila Odinga,” she recalled.

Upon clearance of the hindrances, she was able to travel to the US where she studied Computer Science and Applied Math at Augustana College.

During her free hours in college, Ms Cheboi used to do janitorial work to raise money, which she used to change the lifestyle of her family.

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“After one year, I flew back to the country, went to Gikomba Market and bought everything and moved my family out of poverty.”

After changing her family’s fortunes in her third year in college, she thought of building for a school in her community.

“I built Zawadi Yetu School as a third year student in college and I discovered computers,” she said.

Initially, her dream was to become a pilot, but she had a change of mind during her travel to the US.

Ms Cheboi now run TechLit Africa, a nonprofit organization which has provided thousands of students across rural Kenya with access to upcycled computers, giving them a glimpse of hope.

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