Everything I have is a gift
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Wilson Kubwayo Nitunga was only two years old when he and his family were forced to flee civil war in their home country of Burundi. They made it to the neighboring country of Tanzania, where they spent the next ten years living in a refugee camp.
During those ten long years, Wilson and his family were given an opportunity that he knew was rare. They were selected for resettlement in the United States.
Wilson was thirteen years old when he moved to Tucson, Arizona with his family. Although he felt fortunate for the ability to live and study in America, his mindset was still shaped by his years in the refugee camp. He felt like his life kept going downhill.
Then, in his junior year, he remembers thinking, “I need to do something.”
Now, Wilson puts his perspective on life simply. “Everything I have is a gift.” His philosophy in life is also simple: he asks himself “what can I do to make a difference in someone’s life” and attempts to do just that.
The many strains of his work and activism are woven together by this ultimate aim, that he will be able to change others’ lives through his actions.
Wilson started his career in inspirational speaking while he was a college student, when a school in his American hometown asked him to come and share his story. He spoke to a diverse group of middle school students in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, some of whom even mistook him for a professional speaker. Seeing how his story affected the audience, he became inspired to give more speeches. “I just kept going,” he recalls.
Since that first speech, Wilson has given speeches at a multitude of schools, corporations, and organizations. Now that he has graduated college, he plans on trying to reach more college students as well.
Wilson’s speeches focus on the power of a positive mindset and unlocking one’s full potential. In his signature speech, Wilson uses the term “mindvirus” to describe a “negative way of thinking based on one’s negative experience or the circumstances that have taken place in one’s life.” Wilson fell victim to a mindvirus when he first went to school in the United States. He passionately believes that mindviruses can, and must, be overcome.
While Wilson’s career in inspirational speeches has grown, so too has his work within his hometown. After graduating with his Bachelor’s degree in 2016, he returned to Sioux Falls and founded the Our Growth Project, an organization which is all about “discovering greatness in youth.” Created on the principle that all young people deserve access to the opportunities that will help them thrive, the organization supports young artists through educational programs, marketing, and events. The Our Growth Project also brings together youth and the wider community through monthly “Talent Open Mics” in which anyone can share their talents and their stories.
Although the Our Growth Project and Sioux Falls remain important to Wilson, he is now leaving them both behind. Now that he has graduated with his Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Sioux Falls, he is set to move to Portland, Oregon, where he will work as the Director of Community Engagement for the Refugee Center Online (RCO). The RCO is a portal for refugees and immigrants that offers a variety of free online services, from GED classes to a community forum about life in America.
He hopes to focus his efforts on supporting a population that is at once more narrow and more broad: refugees in the United States. “I’ve given back to my hometown,” he explains, “but I’m ready to expand and learn more about (…) supporting refugees and immigrants, and other social justice and inclusion issues around the world.”