UPDATE, Dec. 13, 2022: See a Local 4 interview with Nelly Cheboi in the video above.
A 2016 Augustana College alum has been named the 2022 CNN Hero of the Year.
Nelly Cheboi, a native of Kenya who graduated in 2016 from the Rock Island private school, was named Hero of the Year Sunday night in a CNN ceremony.
“We are so proud of our Kenyan daughter, Nelly Cheboi, who is CNN’s 2022 Hero of the Year!” former Augustana president Steven Bahls posted Sunday on Facebook. “She founded TechLit Africa, shortly after graduating from Augustana College. TechLit Africa recycles computers and places them in classrooms in Africa. Nelly is one of the most impressive people I’ve ever known. Watch her change the world!”
In 2019, she quit a lucrative software engineering job in Chicago to create computer labs for Kenyan schoolchildren, according to the CNN Heroes website.
Cheboi accepted the award Dec. 11 in New York City with her mother, who she said “worked really hard to educate us.” At the beginning of her acceptance speech, Cheboi and her mother sang a song onstage that she explained had a special meaning when she was growing up.
As CNN Hero of the Year, Cheboi will receive $100,000 to expand her work. She and the other top 10 CNN Heroes honored at Sunday’s gala all receive a $10,000 cash award and, for the first time, additional grants, organizational training and support from The Elevate Prize Foundation through a new collaboration with CNN Heroes.
Cheboi will also be named an Elevate Prize winner, which comes with a $300,000 grant and additional support worth $200,000 for her nonprofit, according to CNN.
Cheboi grew up in poverty in Mogotio, a rural township in Kenya. “I know the pain of poverty,” the 29-year-old told CNN. “I never forgot what it was like with my stomach turning because of hunger at night.”
A hard-working student, Cheboi received a full scholarship to Augustana College in 2012. She began her studies there with almost no experience with computers, handwriting papers and struggling to transcribe them onto a laptop.
Everything changed in her junior year, though, when Cheboi took a programming course required for her mathematics major.
“When I discovered computer science, I just fell in love with it. I knew that this is something that I wanted to do as my career, and also bring it to my community,” she told CNN.
Online voters selected her from among this year’s Top 10 CNN Heroes.
Cheboi’s nonprofit, TechLit Africa, has provided thousands of students across rural Kenya with access to donated, upcycled computers — and the chance at a brighter future.
This is the second time in less than a decade a Quad Citizen has earned CNN Hero of the Year honors.
In 2013, East Moline native Chad Pregracke was named CNN Hero of the Year, earning $250,000 to continue his work cleaning up U.S. rivers through his organization Living Lands & Waters. That prize was on top of the $50,000 that each Hero received then for making the top 10.
For more information on Cheboi’s company, visit the TechLit website.