Chris Ategeka lost both his parents to AIDS, and spent his early life in Uganda with an abusive uncle who wasn’t interested in his schooling. That Ategeka now has two degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, with a PhD on the way, is thanks to a local charity run by an American woman, Carol Adams, and his adopted family in Oakland. He calls his life so far, so different from the kids he grew up with, “a blessing.”
Ategeka isn’t leaving his home behind, though. His nonprofit, CA Bikes, distributes wheelchairs, bicycles, tricycles, and bike ambulances to the East African countryside as it aims to improve access to health care and other services. Ategeka, who is a mechanical engineer, designed the bikes himself using local materials. And he’s set up a team on the ground to manufacture them.
“The whole point is to create a ripple effect with our work–that is, create employment, teach people how to make these products, and invest in the economy,” he says.
Up to 80% of Ugandans live in rural areas, with poor access to health care, he explains. Many roads aren’t suitable for cars, especially when it rains. But bikes can make the trip and are cheap to produce and distribute. CA has sent out about 1,000 so far, first in Uganda, and more recently in Kenya and Rwanda. Village elders keep them safe, letting villagers use them in an emergency.
Ategeka explains that Uganda has a working, if basic, network of rural clinics. But many people lack means to get to them. Women therefore die if there’s a complication during childbirth, and workers suffer unnecessarily if there’s an accident in the fields. CA Bikes also caters to the disabled, who are often neglected and left incapacitated, with no means of caring for themselves or their families.
A star student, Ategeka has been offered several well-paying engineering jobs. But he says he isn’t interested. He wants to build up CA Bikes, as well as another nonprofit that’s developing a home HIV testing kit. “I’m the product of someone’s generosity,” he says. “I’ve got offers with good benefits and salary. But I just don’t find that as satisfying as this.”