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