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Show HN: Building computer labs in schools in Africa (techlitafrica.org)
94 points by nellycheboi12 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments





Hi HN! My name is Nelly Cheboi. I am the co-founder of TechLit Africa, an organization that fosters a more technologically literate Africa by building computer labs in African schools.

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. The only way I knew out was by studying. So I studied. I studied hard. And I ended with a full-ride scholarship to Augustana College, IL.

I was majoring in Chemistry before I discovered computer science my junior year of college. I loved it. With only three semesters left, I decided to get a degree in it. I also built a school with the aim of fostering digital literacy. I doubled down on my work-study program, got some donations from friends and four months later I launched Zawadi Preparatory (https://www.zawadiprep.tech). We admitted 30 kids at its launch in January 2016. Barely 3 years later, we are at 150 kids.

In summer 2018, we built a computer lab at Zawadi Prep. We collected computer donations, bundled it with elementary OS along with open source education software. There is no broadband internet, so we downloaded terabytes of content for our local server including Wikipedia and Stack Overflow. We showed the villagers how to make a Rails app at our free after school program.

I cannot think of a better success story than the one of my seven-year-old niece, Michelle. My friend came over to the lab. Michelle asked, "do you want to see our content?" They were like, "sure." She then opened up a computer, navigated to `192.168.0.2` and said, "look, we have all these." I teared up a little bit. I did not teach any of that.

Our goal for 2019 is to build 10 more computer labs in 10 different Kenyan schools. I always wanted to end poverty. To me, teaching digital literacy is the best way I know how. We now have over one hundred donated workstations. To meet our goal, we need a few hundred more.


If ever you want to go beyond Kenya, let me know. I am fully invested in Africa. I am from there myself. Born and raised until the day i started college. I live between SF and NYC now.

More than happy to lobby for such initiatives with my employer and philanthropic network.

I contributed, in part, to the establishment of things like NairaLabs and Usahidi amongst many others.

Unfortunately, I am not taking on projects in Kenya anymore. Everyone else is doing Kenya and Kenya is, sad to say, saturated with these kind of projects that they end up conflicting.

I am happy to work with you guys on a more devolution focused effort. I'm more interested in other countries rather than Kenya. I spent a number of years there and outside to know that there are other places that need more help than Kenya.

I know it doesn't sit well with people, but I really am not for creating a Goliath of tech in Africa (i.e Kenya). I prefer decentralized development where the whole continent grows together. Also, Kenya is one of the most impressive countries i know. The amount of talent and ambition there is breathtaking and I have no doubt that those folks will take it places. I am not from Kenya, and would like to see development in Africa rather than Kenya only. There are, so far, very few to negligible, trickle down stories of "Africa Rising" beyond the usual suspects Kenya, SA, Nigeria etc.

But yeah, I am ranting now, if ever you do expand to other countries, keep me in mind. Especially smaller hubs like Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Senegal, where the interest and talent pool are just as great. The project looks great (though the site could use more information) and I wish you all the best regardless!


Chirau, our goal is to build more computer labs in more than just Kenya. Kenya was easiest for me because I already had a school there to do the pilot program. As you know with Africa, every country is a whole new market place with its own set of challenges. I will let you when we expand to more countries, it will probably be Ethiopia or Tanzania next. In the meanwhile, if you are looking at a similar projects in other countries, here are a few https://www.iamthecode.org, http://www.gebeya.com/: Ethiopian, https://andela.com/, https://worldcomputerexchange.org/, https://thisisafrica.me/born-to-code-rwanda-launches-first-c....

Chirau, what is the best way to reach you?

mayortendi[at]gmail.com

The website could use some more information about what types of laptops you’re looking for. I clicked donate but it was just a form with no information.

Do they have to be 100% in working condition? What about condition, age, OS, Mac, etc? How do we ship it and where? How does African parcel shipping work?

Also, you could probably collaborate with some tech companies who cycle their laptops for devs after upgrades come out. Then it could be something they’d like to advertise like a banner of social good work on their company website about pages (which would drive more traffic to your site).

Finally, you could have a progress bar of how many laptops you need to reach goals. Saying you only need 50/100 more or something will make individuals feel they are making a significant contribution and that other people are donating. So it’s not going into a black hole but to a clear need. The updates and progress on Kickstarter and gofundme are a big part of the UX.


Thank you for the feedback dmix. We are working on inventory management. We are considering assigning each donation a tracking number so the donor can see where their computer went and the address of the school. As for the progress bar, I can quickly put that together. We are not that picky, so any computer, any condition works. We are based of Chicago but we will be opening a warehouse in Mombasa, Kenya soon. Do you mind emailing us at techlit.africa@gmail.com to discuss further? I really appreciate the feedback. With regards

We added a google form that gives a little more insight to what we are looking for https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdWZRtZsxk4ahwGMYKx...

Hi, my name is Fifi Baiden. I’m the founder of Fifi Soccer Foundation, an organization that empowers underprivileged children of Ghana with valuable tools through education and sports (www.fifisoccer.com).

I’m from Ghana,from a poor family. I sold kerosene to support my family at the age of 7. I worked very hard until I was scouted by a soccer academy in Ghana called Right to Dream Academy. I then got a full scholarship to attend High School at Dunn School and then earned my college degree at UCSB. I played professional soccer college in Major league soccer for Columbus Crew and I’m currently a grad student at Pepperdine University getting my masters in Nonprofit Management. My goal is to give back to underprivileged children and I’m hoping to partner with you guys. I hope to hear from you.


For sure FBaiden, you can reach us at techlit.africa@gmail.com

It is great to see such initiative.

I have a very similar experience as your and can clearly relate . Somehow, I am also working on something similar with other folks, with a specific focus on Guinea (https://www.guineapromise.org/programs/mobile-lab).

One thing that we are realizing is that the scale of the work to be done is such that we have decided to shift our objective to be an inspirational one. We advocate, lobby and inspire schools, local governments to build science labs.

Is your focus mainly with computer labs, or are you interested in general purpose science labs?


gumbo, have you heard of https://www.iamthecode.org. I agree it is a lot of work, but it needs to be done. I first used a keyboard when I was 18 and now I am a software engineer. In just one computer lab I have already reached 200 people and counting. I love the odds, soon it will catch on. I hope we change our education policy to focus on more relevant skills as a result. We are currently only focusing on computer labs, I am the board member of a different non-profit called http://www.joulefoundation.org/ that focus more on stem. Wanna chat more. Reach out to me at techlit.africa@gmail.com

This is accurate. I was there. My name is Tyler, and I help install Linux and content on the machines. If you have content, routers or ethernet cable, please reach out! <mailto: techlit.africa@gmail.com >

I have a few old laptops lying around, still in fine condition but pretty out of date. Can I give them to your organization? How would I get them to you?

Those will be great. You can email us at techlit.africa@gmail.com

Consider seeking connections with the US Peace Corps. I spent theee years teaching basic computer literacy to high schoolers in Burkina Faso as a volunteer. I also helped to set up two school computer labs using donated hardware from sister schools in France. Sadly PC is no longer in BF but I may be able to help you find other connections if you are interested. Email available via website in my profile.

cdubzzz, Awesome stuff. I will be emailing you soon.

Do you have a gofundme or similar for your non profit's current goal? I would love to donate to what you're doing as I'm sure many others here would.


(hi nelly please edit your comment and remove the '/manage/' part of the url, make it just https://www.gofundme.com/building-computer-labs-in-african-s... ... and best of luck!)

Done! Thank you LeonB

here is the website for more info https://techlitafrica.org

Fantastic! Is there a reason you are not using Raspberry Pi's though?

I've got a pop-up computer lab with 10 stations and the whole setup only cost a few hundred bucks.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/RfECe5S9eU2HZx627 https://photos.app.goo.gl/j9DnoPewVBrBuVcs5


Probably a but underpowered for development.

Used laptops are not that more expensive, but they are beefier, the UX is better.


This is awesome. We are not set in stone on the laptops. For a scalable business model, it is safer to rely on donations. Rasberry pi will also require a bit more peripheral devices i.e keyboard, mouse, monitor. But if we start getting Rasperry pi donations, totally. The kids will learn the in and outs of a computer with that kind of set.

realYitzi we use whatever we have donated. So far, that has been mostly laptops.

Wonder if there'd be an efficient way to organise/collect hardware by state or country and ship in bulk?

Prawn, it probably would be. We will be opening up a warehouse in Mombasa, Kenya in May. We are currently collecting all donations here at Chicago, as we organize for warehouse launch. In the future, it would be nice to organize a shipment straight to Kenya.

Please put up a donation link somewhere visible.

I will add it on the website. For computer donation, you can email us at techlit.africa@gmail.com. Here is a go fund me for monetary donations https://www.gofundme.com/building-computer-labs-in-african-s...

Is there a website you can link to or a way for people to find out more?


Ah yes, I see it in your text now. I'm going to change the formatting so the link is clickable (I'm a moderator here) and put "Show HN" in the title, which will put your post also on https://news.ycombinator.com/show. Hopefully that will help you get some good feedback. Good luck!

thank you

I just emailed you another suggestion that might help. Will check email again in about an hour.

I got it. Thank you dang



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