An Unlikely Journey to South Dakota

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Wilson Kubwayo’s presentation to S.D. Farmers Union Jr. REAL students at Freeman High School begins with a song he calls "the fun song." But it's not a simple song. And his is not a simple story. Starting the beat with handclaps, he sings a few lines, encourages the crowd to join in, breaks into a rap verse and finishes with some show-stopping dance moves. The audience of juniors and seniors goes wild. Kubwayo's energy is infectious. He is happy. That itself is impressive given his unlikely journey to the United States.

At age 2, Kubwayo and his family fled the small African country of Burundi when it was torn apart by a civil war. They migrated to a refugee camp in Tanzania where Wilson lived until age 13. “Living in that camp taught me lessons no man can teach,” says Kubwayo. “I always thought if I just had an easier life, I would have a good life and then I would be able to do great things.”

Kubwayo calls that mentality a “mind virus,” a negative way of thinking based on one’s experiences and circumstances.

His story is about overcoming adversity, breaking cycles and living life to your fullest potential. He reminds students that happiness is a choice.

South Dakota Farmers Union Education Director, Rachel Haigh-Blume recruited Kubwayo for the keynote address, not just because of his ability to connect with youth, but because his story puts a human face on the world news we see every day. “To hear from a peer that has lived through the things they see on television, really makes a difference on how kids view the world,” says Haigh-Blume. Family is a bond very important to Kubwayo, as evidenced by his brother Nelson, a constant sidekick, assistant and even cheerleader for the 22-year old’s frequent speaking engagements.

“Without the family support I have, I would not be where I am right now,” says Kubwayo.

Bringing Opportunity to Small Communities “The larger schools in South Dakota have lots of leadership training and guest speakers,” says Haigh-Blume. “Jr. REAL provides those same opportunities to our smaller rural communities.”

South Dakota Jr. REAL (Rural Education and Leadership) features an inspirational speaker and interactive sessions on financial responsibility, community service and leadership from fellow South Dakotans. "That's important to our audiences," says Haigh-Blume. "To see people from small towns like theirs, doing big things, really gets the kids attention." Dozens of students stop between presentations to introduce themselves to presenters and ask, “How did you get your start?” or add, “I never thought there was this kind of opportunity here.” or just to say, “thank you.”

At the end of his Jr. REAL presentation, Kubwayo sticks around to laugh and answer questions from students. His brother is already working the phone to plan their next stop.

They are 8,000 miles away from where they started, but exactly where they want to be. Happy.

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