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.