Denied U.S. Visa To ‘Hacker School,’ Nairobi Teen To Start Her Own

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Written by Dana Sanchez

A Nairobi teen who raised funds to study programming in the U.S. but was denied a U.S. tourist visa to travel here hopes to start her own school and launch Africa’s “new Google,” according to a report at CNN.com.

Martha Chumo, a 19-year-old self-taught programmer, was accepted into a summer session at Hacker School, a U.S.-based bootcamp for hackers where budding programmers come for three months to write code, learn new languages and share industry insights, the report says. The camp was free but Chumo had to cover travel costs and buy a new laptop.

She exceeded her $4,200 fundraising goal, raising almost $5,800 on the online crowd-sourcing platform Indiegogo. But as an unmarried adult not enrolled at university, Chumo was ineligible for a U.S. tourist visa because she couldn’t show sufficient “social ties” to Kenya to prove that she was planning to return home after attending Hacker School, the report said.

“I thought if I can’t go to the hacker school, let me try to bring the school to me,” Chumo said.

Now she’s fundraising again on Indiegogo, with $12,000 raised toward her $50,000 goal – this time, to help her set up her own school for developers in Nairobi.

Chumo didn’t even own a computer until a year ago, let alone know how to write Python web frameworks and Ruby gems, according to  CNN.com. She thought she wanted to be a doctor. But a summer internship that gave her daily access to a computer changed all that.

Soon she was communing with fellow techies at iHub, a co-working space that has become the meeting point for Kenya’s coders and aspiring tech entrepreneurs, using online tools such as Github and Treehouse to become versed in web design and development, the report said.

Spurred by major investments and the roll out of submarine cables bringing high-speed broadband, Kenya has seen a boom in information and communications technology in recent years.

Chumo says her school will run for three months and be free. The goal is to equip young programmers across East Africa with skills to build new technology for the continent, “Not just doing small kinds of technology but getting Africa to get the new Google, the big technologies, these will be things to come from Africa,” she said.

Maybe it was a good thing that they didn’t let her go to Hacker School, Chumo told CNN.