How it all started

How it all started

  • Nelly Cheboi
  • Sunday, Mar 10, 2019
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My name is Nelly Cheboi. I am the co-founder of TechLit Africa, techlitafrica.org. TechLit Africa fosters a more technologically literate Africa by building computer labs in schools. We are more than just access, we strive for effective use. We aim to consistently monitor key indicators of digital literacy and collect feedback from our students and their communities.

I was raised in Mogotio, Kenya, in abject poverty. At nine years old, I collected wild vegetables on my way from school to cook for my younger sister. I would go to corn plantations after harvest to collect left-over corn kernels and ravage through trash pits in the nearby estate to cook something tasty for my younger sister. Both my elder sisters were out in boarding high schools and my mom was always gone raising tuition for them. She would sell clothes, grains and sometimes vegetables depending on the season. When things got really tough I knew I could count on Christmas. Because on Christmas day we wear nice clothes and have plenty of food. I remember this particular Christmas, my mother had gone to the Nakuru, a town an hour from Mogotio to sell vegetables. Having made a profit a few days prior she used the money to buy more vegetables forgetting it was Christmas. She didn’t sell anything that day. She didn’t even have enough for a bus fare back home. She didn’t come home that day. We didn’t eat anything that Christmas. I hated my reality. I promised that no kid should ever have to worry about food ever again. So I studied hard, I knew that is the only thing I could do at the moment. I did very well after my primary placement test. I got admitted to a National high school as a result. I graduated with flying colors got admitted to Zawadi Africa and through Zawadi Africa came to Augustana College, IL.

My childhood dream was to be a pilot. Just the idea of flying out of poverty was so intriguing. I flew for the first time when I was 18. I hated it. I knew then I didn’t I want to be a pilot. I regretted that I had banked in this dream having not known much about it. So in a new country, and no dream I majored in Chemistry. I was good at but I didn’t like it. I then discovered computer science my junior year of college. I loved it. I decided to do a bachelors in computer science and also build a school to foster a more technologically literate Africa. I looked around at my classroom, I was competing with people who were coding since they were nine. I could barely type. I double down on my work-study program, some donations from friends and four months later I launched Zawadi Preparatory. We admitted 30 kids at its launch in January 2016. Barely 3 years later, are at 150 kids.

In summer 2018, Tyler and I built a computer lab at Zawadi Prep. We collected computer donations, equipped them with various educational software and programming languages. We downloaded terabytes of content for our local server. The offline content included Wikipedia pages, khan academy videos, stack exchange, engineering podcasts, programming books, children’s songs and so much more. Using one of the computers as a server, we had all this content served in our local area network. We opened up the lab to the villagers free of charge. The villagers were introduced to web development.

We came back to Chicago and incorporated Technologically Literate Africa Limited (TechLit Africa). Our mission is to foster digital literacy. Our goal for 2019 is to build 10 computer labs, an average of 20 computers each, across 10 primary schools in Kenya. We are collecting computer donations, please reach out to us at techlit.africa@gmail.com. I always wanted to end poverty. No child should have to worry about food. I want to do in a sustainable way. To me, teaching digital literacy is the best way I know how.