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TEDGlobal 2017

Christopher Ategeka: How adoption worked for me

Filmed:
944,138 views

Talent is universal, but opportunity isn't, says TED Fellow Christopher Ategeka. In this charming, hopeful talk, Ategeka tells his story of being orphaned at a young age -- and how being adopted gave him the chance to experience a new culture, acquire an education and live up to his full potential. "We may not be able to solve the bigotry and the racism of this world today," Ategeka says, "But certainly we can raise children to create a positive, inclusive, connected world full of empathy, love and compassion."

- Serial entrepreneur
TED Fellow Christopher Ategeka is on a mission to ensure a sustainable future for humanity and the planet. Full bio

How many of you are tired
00:13
of seeing celebrities adopting kids
from the African continent?
00:16
(Laughter)
00:21
Well, it's not all that bad.
00:24
I was adopted.
00:28
I grew up in rural Uganda,
00:31
lost both my parents
when I was very, very young.
00:35
And when my parents passed,
00:39
I experienced all the negative
effects of poverty,
00:42
from homelessness,
00:49
eating out of trash piles,
00:51
you name it.
00:53
But my life changed
00:56
when I got accepted into an orphanage.
00:59
Through one of those
sponsor-an-orphan programs,
01:03
I was sponsored and given an opportunity
to acquire an education.
01:06
I started off in Uganda.
01:11
I went through school, and the way
this particular program worked,
01:14
you finished high school
and after high school,
01:17
you go learn a trade --
to become a carpenter, a mechanic
01:20
or something along those lines.
01:23
My case was a little different.
01:26
The sponsor family that was sending
these 25 dollars a month
01:30
to this orphanage to sponsor me,
01:34
which -- I had never met them --
01:36
said, "Well ...
01:39
we would like to send you
to college instead."
01:42
Oh -- it gets better.
01:46
(Laughter)
01:47
And they said, "If you get the paperwork,
01:48
we'll send you to school
in America instead."
01:51
So with their help,
01:56
I went to the embassy
and applied for the visa.
01:59
I got the visa.
02:03
I remember this day like it was yesterday.
02:04
I walked out of the embassy
with this piece of paper in my hand,
02:09
a hop in my step,
02:12
smile on my face,
02:14
knowing that my life is about to change.
02:15
I went home that night,
02:20
and I slept with my passport,
02:23
because I was afraid
that someone might steal it.
02:25
(Laughter)
02:27
I couldn't fall asleep.
02:29
I kept feeling it.
02:31
I had a good idea for security.
02:33
I was like, "OK, I'm going
to put it in a plastic bag,
02:36
and take it outside and dig a hole,
and put it in there."
02:38
I did that, went back in the house.
02:43
I could not fall asleep. I was like,
"Maybe someone saw me."
02:45
I went back --
02:48
(Laughter)
02:49
I pulled it out, and I put it
with me the entire night --
02:50
all to say that it was
an anxiety-filled night.
02:53
(Laughter)
02:56
Going to the US was,
just like another speaker said,
02:58
was my first time to see a plane,
03:02
be on one, let alone sit on it
to fly to another country.
03:04
December 15, 2006.
03:09
7:08pm.
03:12
I sat in seat 7A.
03:14
Fly Emirates.
03:18
One of the most gorgeous,
beautiful women I've ever seen walked up,
03:21
red little hat with a white veil.
03:26
I'm looking terrified,
I have no idea what I'm doing.
03:29
She hands me this warm towel --
03:33
warm, steamy, snow white.
03:35
I'm looking at this warm towel;
03:39
I don't know what to do with my life,
let alone with this damn towel --
03:42
(Laughter)
03:45
(Applause)
03:47
I did one of the --
03:51
you know, anything anyone
could do in that situation:
03:53
look around, see what
everyone else is doing.
03:56
I did the same.
03:58
Mind you, I drove about seven hours
from my village to the airport that day.
04:00
So I grab this warm towel,
04:06
wipe my face just like
everyone else is doing,
04:08
I look at it --
04:11
damn.
04:13
(Laughter)
04:14
It was all dirt brown.
04:16
(Laughter)
04:18
I remember being so embarrassed
that when she came by to pick it up,
04:20
I didn't give mine.
04:26
(Laughter)
04:27
I still have it.
04:28
(Laughter)
04:29
(Applause)
04:31
Going to America opened doors for me
04:34
to live up to my full God-given potential.
04:37
I remember when I arrived,
04:41
the sponsor family embraced me,
04:43
and they literally had to teach me
everything from scratch:
04:45
this is a microwave,
that's a refrigerator --
04:48
things I'd never seen before.
04:51
And it was also the first time
04:54
I got immersed into a new
and different culture.
04:56
These strangers showed me
05:00
true love.
05:04
These strangers showed me that I mattered,
05:07
that my dreams mattered.
05:12
(Applause)
05:22
Thank you.
05:28
These individuals had two
of their own biological children.
05:32
And when I came in, I had needs.
05:36
They had to teach me English,
05:39
teach me literally everything,
05:41
which resulted in them spending
a lot of time with me.
05:44
And that created a little bit
of jealousy with their children.
05:47
So, if you're a parent in this room,
05:55
and you have those teenager children
05:59
who don't want anything to do
with your love and affection --
06:02
in fact, they find it repulsive --
06:07
I got a solution:
06:09
adopt a child.
06:11
(Laughter)
06:12
It will solve the problem.
06:13
(Applause)
06:14
I went on to acquire
two engineering degrees
06:19
from one of the best
institutions in the world.
06:21
I've got to tell you:
06:25
talent is universal,
06:26
but opportunities are not.
06:28
And I credit this
06:31
to the individuals
who embrace multiculturalism,
06:34
love, empathy
06:38
and compassion for others.
06:40
We live in a world filled with hate:
06:44
building walls,
06:47
Brexit,
06:49
xenophobia here on the African continent.
06:50
Multiculturalism can be an answer
06:55
to many of these worst human qualities.
06:57
Today, I challenge you
07:03
to help a young child
experience multiculturalism.
07:06
I guarantee you
that will enrich their life,
07:11
and in turn,
07:15
it will enrich yours.
07:16
And as a bonus,
07:19
one of them may even give a TED Talk.
07:21
(Laughter)
07:23
(Applause)
07:25
We may not be able to solve the bigotry
and the racism of this world today,
07:30
but certainly we can raise children
07:35
to create a positive,
inclusive, connected world
07:39
full of empathy,
07:43
love
07:46
and compassion.
07:47
Love wins.
07:49
Thank you.
07:50
(Applause)
07:51

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About the speaker:

Christopher Ategeka - Serial entrepreneur
TED Fellow Christopher Ategeka is on a mission to ensure a sustainable future for humanity and the planet.

Why you should listen

Like Batman, Christopher Ategeka witnessed the death of both his parents as a child. He grew up with immense hardships but managed to navigate an experience that left him equipped with valuable skills.

Ategeka is a serial entrepreneur, engineer and a pioneer in the unintended consequences of technologies ("UCOT") movement. He is the founder and Managing Director at LyfBase, the world's first center for the unintended consequences of technology. Ategeka coined and popularized the term "UCOT" (unintended consequences of technology) in the tech sector and the concept of "UCOT" evangelism. Before that, he founded Health Access Corps, a non-profit that works to establish sustainable health care systems on the African continent. He has been invited to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative and United Nations, and he's won many international awards for his work; he was named a 2016 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and a 2017 TED Fellow. His work has been featured in many major media publications both locally and internationally such as BBC, Forbes, and NPR. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science, and Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

More profile about the speaker
Christopher Ategeka | Speaker | TED.com