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Nelly Cheboi named CNN hero of the year

 Nelly Cheboi poses with her mum after winning. (Courtesy)

There were celebrations in Makongeni village in Mogotio as residents couldn't contain her learning that Nelly Cheboi had won the CNN hero of the year award.

Cheboi's name is now the talk of the village, as the locals laud her and want to be associated with her success.

She was one of 10 people nominated in November to compete for the CNN Hero of 2022 award for creating computer labs for schoolchildren.

Carie Broecker, Richard Casper of Nashville, Nora El-Khouri Spencer, Tyrique Glasgow, Teresa Gray, Meymuna Hussein, Debra Vines, and Bobby Wilson were among the other nominees.

Cheboi of Techlit Africa, a non-profit organisation, attributed her success to her mother, who endured hardships to ensure her children were educated despite poverty.

Cheboi had to seek permission to be accompanied by her mother, who had flown to New York for the event when she was called to the stage.

They sang a song together that she said she used to sing to her mother after seeing what she was going through in making sure they got an education and food.

“Mkono wangu mdogo, haiwezi kufanya kazi, nikiwa mkubwa nitakusaidia na utapumzika, (Translated: my hands are little, can’t help you now but when I grow up I will support you and you will have time to rest),” they sang.

The song reminded them of her days as a young girl in the village when they would hold hands and sing together.

"My mother cared for four girls, and she became the laughingstock of the community every time she was told not to bother or strain taking care of us, and that she was lucky she didn't have a boy.

"Despite the setbacks, she persisted in seeing us through our education," Cheboi said.

She will receive Sh12.3 million, which she says will help her reach the 100 schools in Kenya's rural areas. She will receive an additional Sh1.2 million and will be named Elevate Prize winner, receiving Sh37 million and an additional Sh24.6 million.

Cheboi was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list in April and was chosen to present her journey on resilience at the United Nations (UN) in October.

Cheboi approached Gilbert Sanji, a worker at Techlit Africa, where she is the founder, after meeting him at Mogotio market while visiting her cousin.

Then she overheard Sanji and his friends arguing about some computer studies, which prompted her to ask if they had a background in computers or were interested in learning and working with her company, which she was just starting at the time.

Sanji joined the company in 2019 and would have the opportunity to interact with programming and other software projects that were unfamiliar to him.

"She found me talking about computer programming, she became curious about our conversation and inquired if I had a background in computer studies," Sanji explained.

"Now I'm good at computers, and even now working at Techlit Africa as a part-time employee after she secured a job for me with another company."

Cheboi has been a role model for him, and he supports the dreams of the youth by ensuring they are given a chance to shine.

He said Cheboi despises being referred to as the boss and would rather be addressed by her first name at all times.

Juma Kipsang says Cheboi saw him dancing beside the road and invited him to practise at her studio, which is located near her first structure, which now serves as a studio and students can learn for free.

"It's a great win and blessing for us, and we appreciate her victory. It has inspired us that something can happen in our small village; the sky is no longer the limit; we are meant to fly higher," Kipsang says. 

He claims her story has inspired him and his peers.

The Director of Zawadi Yetu Academy, Sharon Cheboi, described Cheboi as a go-getter. She said her sister spent her childhood studying and waking up early despite the fact that they did not have electricity.

"My sister used to wake up as early as 3am ... she used borrowed textbooks to study. She would rush to the hospital near our house and study using the light," Sharon said.

She said they understand what it is like to be poor, but fortunately, their daughter has saved them and placed them among the respected members of society.


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