19-year-old woman sets up programming school in Nairobi

Martha Chumo is a woman who doesn’t give up easily. A self-taught programmer from Nairobi, Kenya, earlier on this year she overcame some long odds and raised almost $6000 via an IndieGoGo campaign to fund a trip to New York Hacker School. Her motivation was simple – to learn to be the best programmer she can be.

The US consulate in Kenya wasn’t convinced though. Despite a flurry of support letters including those from Hacker School, AdaCamp, the GNOME Outreach Program for Women, the Codecademy community manager, and her mentor from the Apache Deltacloud Project, she was deemed ineligible for a visa. The reason? She’s an unmarried woman with no kids. According to Martha, “The consular said, and I quote, “You need social ties to Kenya. And now that you’re an adult, your parents don’t count”.  This basically translates to I’m ineligible because I am an unmarried 19 year old with no kids, not in her 3rd year of University, and has not worked for a company or the government for many years.”

Not one to give up easily, Martha quickly came up with a different plan: if she couldn’t go to New York for Hacker School, she’d bring Hacker School to Kenya instead! This is how the dream of a Dev School in Nairobi was born. Most people in Kenya don’t have easy access to computers, so in order to be accessible to everyone who wants to learn, the school itself needed to be free, and to provide equipment such as laptops, electricity and Internet access. This brought on a new round of frenzied fundraising – this time with a more ambitious goal of raising $50,000 for school setup.

Not only will the new school provide much-needed learning opportunities for software development, but it also plans to actively address the gender gap in the profession. Being set up and run by a woman is a great start with that, and Martha is as passionate about teaching as she is about programming: “Best part about coding? Teaching and giving back to the community. My friends and I are planning classes to get even more Kenyan women excited about coding.” As a female programmer who has trained and continues to train other women, I can’t help but salute the initiative.

You can find out more about Martha (@NjeriChelimo) and the Nairobi Dev school at their IndieGoGo campaign page: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/nairobi-dev-school