From a young age, Cheboi recognized the harsh reality that her family, much like countless others in their village, was ensnared in a cycle of despair with few prospects for escape.
“I saw my mother working tirelessly, yet we still went to bed hungry. I was consistently sent home from school due to unpaid tuition. Our home frequently flooded,” recounted Cheboi, now 29. “Observing the pervasive poverty in my household and community made it clear that I needed to take action.”
Cheboi’s journey began when she received a scholarship to attend college in the United States. To support her family, she juggled odd jobs while pursuing her education. It was during this time that she discovered her passion for computer science. She credits her computer literacy with opening doors to job opportunities that allowed her to pursue her dreams. Her determination to share this knowledge with her community back in Kenya was unwavering.
Today, through her nonprofit organization, TechLit Africa (short for Technologically Literate Africa), Cheboi is providing 4,000 children with the chance for a brighter future. The organization repurposes recycled computers to establish technology labs in rural Kenyan schools.
“I understand the pain of poverty, which is why I’m so passionate about this cause,” said Cheboi, who works as a software engineer, splitting her time between the United States and Kenya. “I’ve never forgotten what it felt like to go to bed hungry.”
In 2012, Cheboi secured a full scholarship to Augustana College in Illinois, embarking on her studies with minimal computer experience. She painstakingly handwrote her papers and grappled with transcribing them onto a laptop. It wasn’t until her junior year, when she enrolled in a Java course as part of her mathematics major, that she truly felt at ease with computers.
“Discovering computer science was a turning point for me. I fell in love with it and knew that I wanted to pursue it as a career and share it with my community,” she said.
Cheboi opted for a double major and earned her bachelor’s degree. Yet, skills like touch-typing, which came naturally to some, presented a steep learning curve for her. After college, she dedicated six months to practice before passing a coding interview—a skill now integrated into the TechLit curriculum.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see 7-year-old kids touch-typing, especially considering that I learned to do it less than five years ago,” she reflected.
Cheboi began collaborating with businesses in her field and, in 2018, started accepting donated recycled computers. Initially, she transported the machines to Kenya in checked luggage and covered customs fees and taxes personally.
“At one point, I was carrying 44 computers, and I paid more for excess baggage than my airfare,” she revealed.
Today, TechLit Africa partners with freight and shipping companies to facilitate the cost-efficient transportation of donated computers. These computers are meticulously cleaned, refurbished, and then distributed to partner schools in rural Kenya. Students aged 4 to 12 participate in daily classes and enjoy frequent opportunities to learn from professionals, gaining skills that enhance their education and prepare them for future job prospects.
“Our students are exposed to various professionals who inspire them in fields like music production, video production, coding, and personal branding,” Cheboi explained. “They can transition from a remote class with NASA to a music production session with our artists.”
TechLit Africa maintains ownership of the computers, providing tech support, software updates, and troubleshooting. The organization installs customized operating systems designed for children, and schools are requested to pay a nominal fee for these services, which include on-site TechLit educators available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Presently serving 10 schools, Cheboi aspires to partner with an additional 100 by early next year.
“My hope is that when the first TechLit graduates complete high school, they will secure online jobs because they possess coding, graphic design, and marketing skills,” Cheboi affirmed. “Education opens up endless possibilities. By providing resources and skills, we are broadening their horizons.”
TechLit Africa is a beacon of hope, empowering Kenyan youth with the tools and knowledge they need to break free from the cycle of poverty. By bringing technology education to underserved communities, Cheboi and her team are lighting the path to a brighter future for thousands of children.
For those interested in getting involved or supporting TechLit Africa’s mission, please visit the TechLit Africa website or consider contributing to their GoFundMe campaign.