Good People Doing Good Things — Nelly Cheboi

CNN has announced their 2022 Hero of the Year, and I think she is well-deserving of both the CNN award and being given space on Filosofa’s ‘good people’ series.

Nelly Cheboi quit a lucrative software engineering job in Chicago to create computer labs for Kenyan schoolchildren in 2019 and in just three short years has done so much for children in Kenya that she was chosen by online voters as this years Hero!  Per CNN …

Nelly Cheboi grew up in poverty in Mogotio, a rural township in Kenya. “I know the pain of poverty,” said Cheboi, 29. “I never forgot what it was like with my stomach churning because of hunger at night.”

A hard-working student, Cheboi received a full scholarship to Augustana College in Illinois 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.

Many basic computer skills were still a steep learning curve, however. Cheboi remembers having to practice touch-typing for six months before she could pass a coding interview. Touch-typing is a skill that is now a core part of the TechLit curriculum.

“I feel so accomplished seeing kids that are 7 years old touch-typing, knowing that I just learned how to touch-type less than five years ago,” she said.

Once she had begun working in the software industry, Cheboi soon realized the extent of which computers were being thrown away as companies upgraded their technology infrastructure.

“We have kids here (in Kenya) — myself included, back in the day — who don’t even know what a computer is,” she said.

So, in 2018, she began transporting donated computers back to Kenya — in her personal luggage, handling customs fees and taxes herself.

“At one point, I was bringing 44 computers, and I paid more for the luggage than I did for the air ticket,” she said.

A year later, she co-founded TechLit Africa with a fellow software engineer after both quit their jobs. The nonprofit accepts computer donations from companies, universities and individuals.

The hardware is wiped and refurbished before it’s shipped to Kenya. There, it’s distributed to partner schools in rural communities, where students ages 4 to 12 receive daily classes and frequent opportunities to learn from professionals, gaining skills that will help improve their education and better prepare them for future jobs.

“We have people who own a specific skill coming in and are just inspiring the kids (with) music production, video production, coding, personal branding,” Cheboi said. “They can go from doing a remote class with NASA on education to music production.”

The organization currently serves 10 schools; within the next year, Cheboi hopes to be partnered with 100 more.

“My hope is that when the first TechLit kids graduate high school, they’re able to get a job online because they will know how to code, they will know how to do graphic design, they will know how to do marketing,” Cheboi said. “The world is your oyster when you are educated. By bringing the resources, by bringing these skills, we are opening up the world to them.”

As a recipient of the CNN Award, 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. Nelly will also be named an Elevate Prize winner, which comes with a $300,000 grant and additional support worth $200,000 for her nonprofit.  Just imagine how many children in Kenya will grow up with a chance in life they might otherwise never have had!

Good People Doing Good Things — Peter Tabichi

Peter TabichiI would like to introduce you to Peter Tabichi.  Peter is a Kenyan science teacher and Franciscan friar at the Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Pwani Village in a remote part of Kenya’s Rift Valley.  More than 90% of his pupils are from poor families and almost a third are orphans or have only one parent. Drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, dropping out early from school, young marriages and suicide are common. Students have to walk 4 miles along roads that can become impassable in the rainy season to reach the school and the area can be affected by drought and famine. RiftValleyMany of Mr. Tabichi’s students would not be able to attend school, if it weren’t for the fact that he gives 80% of his salary to help support the students.  That, in itself, is remarkable, but that isn’t all he does.

Despite only having one computer, a poor internet connection and a student-teacher ratio of 58:1, Tabichi started a “talent nurturing club” and expanded the school’s science club, helping pupils design research projects of such quality that many now qualify for national competitions.  His students have taken part in international science competitions and won an award from the Royal Society of Chemistry after harnessing local plant life to generate electricity.

Tabichi and four colleagues also give struggling pupils one-to-one tutoring in math and science, visiting students’ homes and meeting their families to identify the challenges they face.  Enrollment at the school has doubled to 400 over three years and girls’ achievement in particular has been boosted.  Take four minutes, if you will, to see Mr. Tabichi in action.

Last week Mr. Tabichi was honoured at a ceremony in Dubai where he was awarded the Varkey Foundation 2019 Global Teacher Prize and a check for $1 million!  The Global Teacher Prize is intended to raise the status of the teaching profession. The winner is selected by committees comprised of teachers, journalists, officials, entrepreneurs, business leaders and scientists. The 2019 competition included 10,000 nominations from 179 countries. The founder of the prize, Sunny Varkey, said he hopes Tabichi’s story “will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over Kenya and throughout the world every day”.Peter Tabichi awardAccepting the prize, Tabichi said:

“I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that they can do anything. As a teacher working on the front line I have seen the promise of its young people – their curiosity, talent, their intelligence, their belief. Africa’s young people will no longer be held back by low expectations. Africa will produce scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose names will be one day famous in every corner of the world. And girls will be a huge part of this story. It’s morning in Africa. The skies are clear. The day is young and there is a blank page waiting to be written. This is Africa’s time.”

The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, said in a video message:

Uhuru Kenyatta“Peter – your story is the story of Africa, a young continent bursting with talent. Your students have shown that they can compete amongst the best in the world in science, technology and all fields of human endeavour.”

Upon his return to Kenya, he was given the royal treatment by local officials, fellow teachers and students who through songs praised him for his humility and selflessness.  At the school, he was cheered through songs and dances by relatives, local community and students.

Tabichi homecomingWhat do you suppose Mr. Tabichi plans to do with the prize money?  You got it!  He plans to use “much more than 80 percent” of his prize money in educating the needy bright students and empowering the local community to become resilient to effects of drought.

“My focus is not going to be just the children but help the community adapt to climate change. I will be helping them adopt a model of growing drought-tolerant crops in kitchen gardens.”

Tabichi sign.jpgI am in awe of this man and what he is doing, and give him a two thumbs up!


Good People Doing Good Things — The Teacher & The Bridgebuilder

Today I have not one, but two ‘good people’ for you, and … a surprise ending!  If these two people don’t bring a smile to your face and a song to your heart, then I don’t know what will.  Gronda … grab your box of tissues. For today’s story, we travel to Kenya on the African continent …

The teacher …

Can you imagine being engaged at the tender young age of five, being expected to leave school to marry, bear children and become a homemaker in your early teens?  That is exactly what was expected of Kakenya Ntaiya, who spent her childhood in the small Maasai village of Enoosaen in Western Kenya. She was the oldest of eight children, working hard alongside men tending the fields and helping her mother haul water and care for her siblings. The family was very poor, but young Kakenya would dream of a better life. School was her respite and she excelled at it, dreaming of becoming a teacher, but her life was set to follow the traditional path of ending school to become a wife and a mother.  Kakenya’s dream was important enough that she was willing to defy her father in order to return to finish high school.

Eventually, she was accepted to college in the United States and awarded a scholarship, but she needed help to travel there.  She reached out to her community and promised that in exchange for their support, she would return to the village and use her education to help them.  And that is just what she did.  The villagers all pitched in and collected money to help Kakenya, and off she went to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now the co-ed Randolph College) in Virginia.  Although Kakenya had grown up without electricity, it didn’t take her long to get the hang of writing papers on a computer.  She also became the first youth advisor to the United Nations Population Fund, where she traveled the world as a passionate advocate for girls’ education. She went on to the University of Pittsburgh, where she received her Ph.D. in Education.

And during it all, she never forgot her promise to her village. Kakenya returned to her village in Maasai where only 11% of girls even finish primary school, and in 2009 she opened the first primary school for girls in her village, the Kakenya Center for Excellence.  The Kakenya Center for Excellence started as a traditional day school, but now the students, who range from fourth to eighth grade, live at the school. This spares the girls from having to walk miles back and forth, which puts them at risk of being sexually assaulted, a common problem in rural African communities. It also ensures the girls don’t spend all their free time doing household chores.the schoolStudents receive three meals a day as well as uniforms, books and tutoring. There are also extracurricular activities such as student council, debate and soccer. Class sizes are small — many schools in Kenya are extremely overcrowded — and the girls have more chances to participate. With these opportunities and the individual attention they receive, the girls are inspired to start dreaming big.

“They want to become doctors, pilots, lawyers. It’s exciting to see that. Fathers are now saying, ‘My daughter could do better than my son’.”

As a public school, the Kakenya Center for Excellence receives some financial support from the Kenyan government. But the majority of the school’s expenses are paid for by Ntaiya’s U.S.-based nonprofit, Kakenya’s Dream. While families are asked to contribute to cover the cost of the girls’ meals, an expense that can be paid in maize or beans, Ntaiya covers the costs of any students who cannot pay.traditiional dance.jpgEach year, more than 100 girls apply for approximately 30 spots available in each new class. Parents who enroll their daughters must agree that they will not be subjected to genital mutilation or early marriage.

Her nonprofit also runs health and leadership camps that are open to all sixth-grade girls in the village and teach them about female circumcision, child marriage, teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.

“We tell them about every right that they have, and we teach them how to speak up. It’s about empowering the girls.”

in classToday, Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya reaches thousands of young girls and community members each year through the holistic, and girl-centered programs she pioneered at Kakenya’s Dream.  There is much more I could say about Dr. Kekenya Ntaiya, but I want to introduce you to the other ‘good person’ …

The bridge-builder …

Harmon-ParkerHarmon Parker is a bricklayer who became a master mason early in his life. Just an everyday, average workingman, he spent some time working with a developmental group in Africa some twenty years ago. And he heard the stories … stories like this one …

Nengume could see the lights of the clinic, not far away, shining in the deep darkness of the landscape. As the lights grew brighter, her hope grew stronger. Help for her child was near. She adjusted the baby on her back and pushed ahead. Then, she heard the sound she had feared, and hope faded quickly into the dark, angry waters of the rushing river.

The same life-sustaining waters that provided so much were now keeping her from the help she needed. An attempt to cross the floodwaters, especially at night, would mean certain death. A safe place to cross could be more than twenty miles down the river. She looked up again and saw the lights on the other side of the river – hope just out of reach.

bridge in useNegume’s was just one of many such stories, and as he listened, Harmon Parker saw his path.  Harmon Parker began building footbridges over dangerous rivers in Kenya more twenty years ago.  Since 1997, Harmon Parker has helped build more than 60 footbridges over perilous rivers in Kenya.  He established Bridging the Gap Africa (BtGA), a nonprofit that doesn’t just build the bridges, but involves the community so that the people truly feel they are a part of the effort.  Their mission statement is simple:

BtGABridging the Gap Africa (BtGA) believes that marginalized African communities should not suffer from the dangers posed by impassable rivers.  Footbridges prevent drowning and ensure safe, uninterrupted access to education, health care, and economic opportunity. BtGA builds bridges that save lives.

And this is what Harmon Parker has dedicated his life to for the past 20 years.

Both Dr. Ntaiya and Mr. Parker certainly qualify by themselves as ‘good people doing good things’, but wait!  There’s more!  These two, each having been a ‘CNN Hero’, met at a CNN Heroes event and felt an instant connection.  It happened that a bridge near Kakenya’s village had recently been washed away in flood waters, leaving many children unable to get to school.


Harmon Parker & Kakenya Ntaiya

“I’ve got a project for you!” said Kakenya, and Mr. Parker rose to the challenge.  See them tell the story themselves …


Now wasn’t that awesome?  These two people and their sheer level of dedication to making life a bit better warmed my heart, and I hope it did yours too.  Have a great day, friends!

Updates and Addendums

Today I have just a few updates to the past week’s stories:

  • The wild fire in Alberta, Canada, (A Tale of Two Tragedies) is still not under control, even after a week of major firefighting efforts. In fact, the latest news is that Canadian officials are expecting it to be months before the fire is fully extinguished.  The biggest concern at present is that the fire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine, and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. As of today, it is estimated that the fire has consumed more than 494,000 acres and is continuing to grow, aided by high temperatures, dry conditions and high winds.  My heart goes out to those who have lost their homes and everything they owned, but also to the hundreds of firefighters who have been working 30 or more hours straight without sleep.  I cannot imagine.


firefighters rest

Firefighters take a short break after more than 30 hours on the job.


    Can Dundar (L) and  Erdem Gul (R)

    Can Dündar, (A Turkey of a Turkey … In Turkey) the Turkish journalist who was facing a possible life sentence for a documentary he produced, was fired upon by a gunman just outside the courthouse in Istanbul prior to sentencing on Friday.  The gunman was apparently a novice, as all three shots missed Dündar, though another journalist was slightly injured by a ricocheted bullet.  Though the gunman claims to have been acting alone and says that he wanted to teach Dündar a lesson, two other people were also detained.  Dündar blames Erdogan for the attack, saying “We know very well who showed me as a target,” accusing Erdogan and pro-government media of whipping up a climate of hatred against him.

A few minutes after the attack outside the courthouse, Dündar was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months in prison, convicted of publishing secret state documents. while fellow journalist Erdem Gül received a 5-year sentence. The sentence is certainly less than the life sentence that was a possibility, but it still reeks of dictatorial and punitive limits on the press.  In Dündar’s own words, “In the space of two hours we have experienced two assassination attempts: one was done with a gun, the other was judicial. The [jail sentences] we received are not just to silence us. The bullet was not just to silence us. This was done to all of us, to scare us into silence, to make us stop talking.”  Turkey now ranks 151st among 180 countries in the world press freedom index.

  • baby elephantIn September, member states of the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will meet to discuss, among other topics, the elephant ivory trade. (Of Elephants and Ivory …) I was, and am yet, perplexed to find that even among the African nations this is a divisive issue.  Apparently Namibia and Zimbabwe are in favour of opening up the ivory trade, while Kenya supports a complete global ban on all things ivory.  I have to say that in this case, I side with Kenyans. In the 1970s, Africa had about 1.2 million elephants, but now has 400,000 to 450,000, or about one-third the 1970’s population.  Obviously, the possibility of extinction in the next 20-30 years is a very real phenomenon if the ivory trade is allowed to continue.  How terribly sad that anyone in their right mind would value a piece of jewelry or a billiard ball more than the life of one of these majestic animals.

Of Elephants And Ivory …

elephant and babyIvory.  It comes from elephant tusks, tusks that are used for self-defense, foraging, digging, stripping bark and moving things out of the way.  Tusks are also a matter of pride when the male African elephant goes in search of a mate.  Ivory.  Humans like to make trinkets, piano keys, billiard balls, and jewelry from ivory. In many countries, it is a status symbol, a symbol of wealth.  Unfortunately, in order to get the ivory from the tusk of the elephant, the elephant must die, must be murdered. In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the ivory trade, making elephant hunting illegal.  Yet an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012.

ivory trinkets.jpgLook at the picture above.  Do you see anything that you would consider to be worth the life of even a single animal, a single elephant?  Yet, man will condone killing these majestic animals for no other reason than to own such a trinket.

The most comprehensive studies about elephant populations and poaching have been performed in Samburu in northern Kenya.  George Wittemyer of Colorado State University co-founded with Save the Elephants, in association with the Kenya Wildlife Service has been involved in a long-term monitoring program.  Data from their studies shows that there was a significant surge in elephant poaching, aka murder, around 2009, which directly co-relates to the price of ivory quadrupling around the same time.  In 2014, the price of ivory was recorded at $2,100 per kilo, however by November 2015, it had fallen to just over half of that.  Still, poachers and black marketers are making money from the sale of ivory, from the murder of elephants.

Dead elephantKenyan officials have lost patience with the needless and mindless slaughter of the elephants and yesterday, the Guardian reported that a huge pyre of confiscated tusks and ivory trinkets estimated at a market value of $105 million was burned in Kenya at Nairobi National Park.  President Uhuru Kenyatta himself lit the fire with other officials on hand.  Why?  Because they are hoping to shock the world into protecting the elephants.  Kenyatta said: “Kenya is making a statement that for us ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants. This will send an absolutely clear message that the trade in ivory must come to an end and our elephants must be protected. I trust that the world will join us to end the horrible suffering of our herds and save our elephants for future generations.”

The message of the burning of tusks is clear and critical, however there may be a downside.  Mike Norton-Griffiths, an environmental economist, says that approximately 5% of the global ivory supply was burned, and that those who trade in ivory will now be even more determined to acquire more. By murdering more elephants.

What is the solution?  I think it must be multi-faceted.  First, governments of nations must ban the import of ivory.  U.S. regulations actually allow ivory to be legally imported and traded, as do other nations.  Second, I think that all nations need to come together and form a joint coalition, providing funds and international personnel to help catch poachers and find ways to protect the elephants.   Third, there needs to be global education about the true cost of ivory.  Trinkets and such may range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, but that is a mere pittance as compared to the life of an elephant.  In the law of supply and demand, as long as there is a demand, someone will find a way to supply it.  Terry Garcia, the chief science and exploration officer for the National Geographic Society says “We’ve got to begin addressing the issue of demand and how you suppress it. How do you make it socially unacceptable to purchase illegal ivory”?  I don’t have any answers, but I think public awareness is the only place we can start, and that is my purpose in writing this article.  For more information about elephants and the ivory trade, please take a moment to visit this very informative website:

Where Is The Outrage Now???

27 March 2016 – A bomb blast Sunday in a park in the Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 71, injuring more than 340, mostly women and children.  While it is said that the attack targeted Christians, the victims were overwhelmingly Muslims.

22 March 2016 – Bombs packed with nails terrorized Brussels on Tuesday in the deadliest assault on the European heartland since the Daesh attacks on Paris four months prior, hitting the airport and subway system in coordinated strikes, killing 35 and injuring over 300.

Two horrific terrorist attacks killing and injuring far too many, mostly civilians.  Both were perpetrated by terrorist organizations, one by Daesh and one by a Taliban offshoot called Jamaat-e-Ahrar.  Similar terrorist attacks, yet with some major differences:

  • The Brussels attack was major news on every network within minutes; the Pakistan attack was not reported in the U.S. until several hours had passed
  • Monuments across the west lit up with the colours of the Belgian flag, but not a single western capital lit up with the colours of Pakistan.
  • Immediately following the Brussels attacks, there was an outpouring of sympathy from the western world. Following the Pakistan attack, only Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, French President Francois Hollande and the Russian Foreign Ministry passed on sympathies along with US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, but most world leaders said little.
  • The main difference, I suspect, is that Brussels is in Europe, a part of the western world, whereas Pakistan is in the Middle East.

April 2015 – Kenya was rocked with a terror attack at Garissa  University that left 148 people dead. Of those, 142 were students. Where was the outrage?  Where was the outpouring of grief and commiseration?  I am ashamed to say that I do not even remember hearing about this attack until I read it on the 1st anniversary of the attack (read memory of fellow blogger StuckInPerpetualSoliloquy here. )

November 2015 – The day before the terrorist attacks in Paris, a pair of suicide bombers struck southern Beirut on Thursday, killing 43 people and leaving shattered glass and blood on the streets. At least 239 others were wounded.  We all remember Paris, but does anybody remember Lebanon?

I could cite numerous other examples, as terrorist attacks are nothing new in the non-western world.  Relatively, terrorism is a rarity in the western world – Europe and the Americas.  However, listening to the western media, one would think that Daesh is the only terrorist organization and that the west is the only target.  Quite simply, the reverse is true.  Boko Haram is actually responsible for a larger number of deaths than Daesh, but since they are based in West Africa and operate primarily on the African continent, we never hear about them.  The Taliban, Hezbollah, Al-Shaabab … all rank in the top 10 most lethal terrorist organizations.  But we in the west are not told that.  We are told only that we must fear Daesh (“ISIS” or “ISIL”).  Terrorist attacks like the ones in Kenya, Pakistan, and Lebanon are far more frequent occurrences than those in Europe or the U.S., but we are not told that.  WHY????

Remember the attack on the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015?  11 people were killed and another 11 injured.  Mainstream media brought us up-to-minute coverage for days.  Social media was jammed with outpourings of support and sympathy.  Yet, the number of victims was considerably smaller than, say, the attacks in Kenya, that we barely heard a peep about. Ah, but France is in Europe, part of the western world …

We in the western world are arrogant.  Perhaps it is the fault of the media that we have come to believe we are all important and that nations in the Middle East or the African continent simply do not matter.  Perhaps we would care if we were told, if the western media thought it was important enough to bring to our attention.  Or perhaps not.  There was a time I would have said that my fellow countrymen would be as distraught, as sad, as horrified over an attack in Kenya, Pakistan or Afghanistan as one in New York or Chicago.  I am not so sure now.  In the past decade, we seem to have been robbed of our humanity, of our compassion for others.  Compassion is being replaced by bigotry, humanity by greed.  Or apathy.  Perhaps we have heard of so many attacks in the Middle East that we have become inured to them, we simply shrug our shoulders and think that “it took place over there, and those things happen over there.”  Is the value of a human life any less because it is a Pakistani life or a Kenyan life or a Syrian life?  Is the value of a Muslim life any less than a Christian life?  I think not.

In my research for this article, I came across a comment on one of the news stories about the Pakistan attacks: “if world has to get some piece some countries has to be wiped out from world map. Pak, Afkhan, Turkey, Iraque, Albania, Bosnia, Saudi, and some Russian territories where Muslims are majority like Chech, Dage, Circassia, Bashkr,azarbaijn, Tartaristn .”  Sickening, disgusting, and utterly inhumane.  Is this the result of the hate speeches we hear almost daily by the bigots in our midst?

Even today, as I stroll through my Facebook timeline, kicking the garbage out of my way as I go, I see references to both the Paris and Belgium attacks, but nothing about Pakistan.  Human nature is such that we will likely always be more attuned to what happens in our own backyard than halfway around the globe.  Nevertheless, we should not simply shrug our shoulders and say “well, those things happen over there”, or  “thank God it wasn’t here”.  Other nations sometimes view the U.S. as arrogant, and they are not wrong.  But I wonder if we are arrogant because we have been spoiled by living in a nation that has been exposed to so little adversity, or if we are arrogant because we are sheltered by our own media, fed by the politicians only what they want us to know, allowed to believe that only we matter?  Think about it.

pak-brus flags