I got to make sure that nobody in my village ever went to sleep hungry. To contribute, even in some small way, to the future of these kids means everything to me.
MOGOTIO, Kenya — After co-founding Technologically Literate Africa (TechLit Africa), CNN named me the 2022 Hero of the Year. My non-profit organization uses recycled computers to create tech labs in schools in Kenya.
I grew up in Mogotio, a remote village in one of Kenya’s poorest counties. I witnessed the ravages of extreme poverty my entire life. Children walked to school barefoot. We went to bed hungry almost every night. I never imagined one day a major news organization would award me a $100,000 grant.
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Now, at 30 years old, I use my skills as a computer engineer to serve 4,000 kids and 20 teachers. Together with my team, we built over 10 computer labs in rural Kenya, with plans for 100 more.
Growing up, I watched my mother work for hours on end by the side of the road to provide for me and my sisters. She struggled to make sure we received the bare necessities in life.
People in our village often called her lucky for having daughters. After all, we simply had to get married. My mother felt differently; she wanted more for us. She pushed us to succeed at everything and to get an education.
I remember seeing the sadness in her eyes most evenings, when the table lay empty of food. She always returned from work tired and frail. At night, she sang us songs to put us to sleep, and in the mornings, she helped us get dressed and ready.
Many of my classmates stopped going to school. I do not blame them. Going to school hungry becomes difficult. My mother’s strength kept me going. She became the reason I persevered through all the challenges.
I hated seeing the guilt in her eyes. She wanted to offer us so much more. Often, as I sat with her, I made a repeated promise: one day, I will succeed. One day, you will never have to work again.
While she appeared skeptical of my promise, she always supported me. I feel great pride in proving myself to her. When my career in computer engineering began, I wanted to give the people in my community a better education. I saw brilliant classmates abandon their studies due to poverty, their potential wasted. It lit a fire inside me and motivated me to do something.
Math always interested me. It felt like a world of infinite possibilities living within a few numbers. In high school, my teacher told us about computer science. My enthusiasm deepened as I learned that math and technology could be combined. I found my path. However, getting to a computer proved challenging.
I stayed in cybercafes for hours, printing documents about computers and teaching myself how to operate one. It felt like a nightmare at first, but eventually, I learned enough to use one comfortably. After graduation, I earned a scholarship to the United States.
I reached out to my local government regarding a passport, and they held a fundraiser to pay for my travel documents and expenses. I felt eternally grateful to my community. Though I missed Kenya, America changed me. At first, I experienced culture shock, mainly around food and social gatherings. Nevertheless, I got to interact with great minds at school and work. It stimulated me, and my perception of the world changed. I learned the real importance of giving back to society.
After graduating in 2015, I worked as a business analyst, leading software engineering for two U.S. firms until 2019. I spent six challenging months practicing coding. Afterwards, I decided to go back to Kenya with one mission in mind: to empower my community with the knowledge I gathered. With the support of a friend, we co-founded Technologically Literate Africa (TechLit Africa) and began our dream of creating tech labs in schools.
I began visiting companies, universities, and individuals looking for used computers which I distributed to schools. Eventually, I bought a small plot of land and opened a training center called Zawadi School in the village. It felt crazy that something which started as a small personal venture ended up a global story.
I felt extremely proud of myself and my colleagues. Through this nonprofit initiative, I earned several awards and international mentions, including the Forbes 30 under 30, and the prestigious CNN Hero of the Year Award. The award came with a $100,000 grant that I can put back into the company. It felt unreal.
So far, we partnered with 10 schools. By the end of 2023, we hope to partner with 100 more. Giving back to my people in Kenya filled my heart with so much joy. My mom experienced flying for the first time when she came to America with me. She had never travelled outside Kenya before, and I never witnessed her so excited.
I also got to make sure nobody in my village ever went to sleep hungry. To contribute to the future of these kids means everything to me. I cannot wait for the first TechLit students to finish high school and land their first jobs in computer science. With their knowledge in marketing, coding, and graphic design, nothing can stop them. By bringing these resources and skills to Kenya, we opened up a whole world of possibilities.
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