Christopher Ategeka: The Story Of A Ugandan Orphan Who Made It To Forbes

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his is a rare rugs-to-riches story. He was born in a poor family, and to make matters worse he was orphaned at a tender but this didn’t stop him from excelling in school and thereafter in life. Born on July10, 1984 in Fort Portal Uganda, Christopher Ategeka’s tale is an inspiration to the hopeless and most vulnerable across the world.

Ategeka, who is now based in San Francisco Bay Area, California, U.S, is an Entrepreneur, Engineer, Inventor and Investor. He is the founder and CEO of Rides for Lives (formerly CA Bikes) and co-founder of Privail. Motivated by his experiences growing up in rural northwestern part of Uganda, Ategeka is the Founder of Rides for Lives, a company built to bring about health equity to the 400 million people worldwide that lack access to essential health services according to a report released by the World Health Organization and World Bank.

I started off with the help of grandma and other relatives – then the kids were passed on to me.

Rides for Lives services empower people to access health services in developing Countries. His work has been profiled in the YAHOO, San Francisco Chronicle, Fast Company, TED, NPR, Forbes, BBC, and the United Nations.

Ategeka has received many honors and awards for his work; most recently was named a 2016 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum as well as 2014 Forbes 30 under30 Social Entrepreneurs who are changing the world.

Taking care of his family at a tender age Ategeka, the eldest of five siblings, was orphaned after losing both parents to HIV/AIDS. He became the head of the household and caretaker to his brothers and sisters at an early age. In order to feed his family, Ategeka started his first business by collecting garbage in exchange for food. His siblings were eventually disbursed to live with different relatives.

Chris as he is fondly called by peers, went to live with his uncle, whom he helped by acting as a human scarecrow to chase monkeys away from his uncle’s crops. Finding enough food for survival was the focus of every day. “I worked in gardens, weeding, harvesting, lawn mowing, grazing animals and collecting trash in exchange for food,” Chris told Yahoo Small Business, “and later started to get paid cash.”

The youngster worked hard, both to keep himself alive and take care of his siblings. “I started off with the help of grandma and other relatives—then the kids were passed on to me.” With some adult helping hands, he was able to construct a mud hut that he and his siblings could subsist in on their own. “It’s still there today,” Chris told Forbes in an interview. To survive such a childhood to become a renowned inventor, honored at the White House, lauded worldwide for products that save lives and make the world a better place—well, that is more than extraordinary.

A DEFINING INCIDENT

There was one incident, among the myriad scenes of horror, fear and loss, that would haunt Chris forever and become the inspiration for his career. One of his younger brothers became very ill. Improvising a gurney of sorts from a piece of cloth, the children tried to carry their brother to the nearest healthcare facility, which was many miles away.

He died in their arms as they struggled to get him to a doctor or nurse who could, without doubt, have saved his life. If only there had been a better way to transport him, a way that would be within reach for even such a desperately poor family as his own!

Christopher Ategeka with Muhammed Ali

“Talent is universal, but opportunities are not,” says Chris, who managed to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the prestigious program at UC Berkeley in record time by developing a habit he still has now of working extraordinarily hard on very little sleep. “A seventeen-year-old computer genius in San Francisco is not any smarter than a seventeen-year-old kid in the jungles of Africa. They were just born on an uneven playing field.”

As luck would have it, in his teens, Chris, with the help of a relative escaped to a non-profit orphanage, YES Uganda, and was able to go to primary school. While he was there, he was sponsored by an American family who were able to get him into a private high school in Fort Portal, Uganda.

Upon graduation, Chris moved to the United States to live with them and attend community college before receiving a scholarship to University of California, Berkeley where he received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. “I am the luckiest guy alive,” wrote Chris on a Reddit AMA that crashed multiple times with the outpouring of heartfelt responses to his tale. “I am living the dream—three meals a day!”

The 2015 QB3 Awards; The California Academy of Sciences – Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.Apart from Rides for Life, Chris is co-founder with fellow Cal graduate Anwaar Al-Zireeni of a start-up biotech firm, Privail, which is developing point-of-care diagnostics for the early detection of infectious diseases, with an initial focus on HIV. Their goal is to provide simple and affordable tests that will enable patients throughout the world to take earlier action in seeking medical treatment.

He’s also founder and partner of New Focus Africa, an intensive mentorship and funding program designed to help mission-driven African entrepreneurs build better products and forge the connections needed for success. “We aspire to bridge the gap between the continent and the global startup ecosystem,” says Chris.

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