Hard-wired to work for social justice

Luigi Nuñez, who grew up in North Camden and attended Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, is using his computer skills while working at a non-profit in Uganda. He is pictured there with a co-worker, Pauline Namutebi.

Luigi Nuñez talks like a social activist and thinks like — and, in fact, is — a millennial with impressive computer skills.

The son of immigrants who grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, Nuñez has a concern for others that is matched by his ability to understand the increasingly technological nature of the modern world.

Some would say the welfare of the world depends on individuals like him.

A graduate of Holy Name School in North Camden and Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, he recently graduated from Saint Joseph University with a double major in computer science and mathematics. Now, only a few weeks after receiving his diploma, he is in Uganda, working for a non-profit organization.

Nuñez is the recipient of a fellowship from the Global Health Corps (GHC), an organization concerned with health equity — the study and causes of differences in the quality of health and healthcare across different populations — in Africa and the United States. He has been placed in Kampala, Uganda, where he serves as an e-learning officer with the Program for Accessible Health Communication and Education (PACE).

“I analyze data to evaluate the impact of our projects and data management systems and to create and implement solutions that improve the efficiency of our initiatives,” he said.

For Nuñez, the yearlong fellowship is a way to put his technical expertise in the service of social justice.

“This position is the first of its kind that I have seen — using the technical field that is computer science to bring about social justice in a truly holistic way,” he said. “I have come to believe that there is always a way to combine your passions with your talents.”

But Nuñez did not develop his passion for justice while learning about computer programing. He is quick to point to individuals who have had a strong influence on him, beginning with Camden Catholic teacher Gabe Paoletti.

“I took his course on Christian Leadership and the lessons on positive psychology, hope and forgiveness are themes I constantly think about to this day,” Nuñez said. “Gabe truly influenced how I work with others and helped me remember that each person has hopes and fears and that we are all human at the end of the day.”

Nuñez also talks about the dedication of Timothy Gallagher at Guadalupe Family Services, also a former teacher at Holy Name School, who showed him “the need to recognize others for their own self-worth and talents.” And another mentor is Jesuit Father Daniel Joyce, executive director of Missions Programs at Saint Joseph University.

As a student, Nuñez couldn’t rely on his parents for help with homework. And he had to translate for them at parent-teacher meetings.

Originally from the Dominican Republic, they came to the United States about 30 years ago.

“Today, they are much more comfortable with speaking and understanding English, but struggles still persist. My parents could not (and still cannot) fully understand nor assist with issues that my siblings and I experienced growing up,” Nuñez said.

Nuñez said he always felt loved and supported by his parents, but being unable to fully rely on them helped him become self-sufficient.

“It pushed me to work hard not only for them but myself; the constant independence taught me how to excel using my own gifts and talents,” he added. “At the same time, the constant support from others, especially my mentors, instilled in me how community alongside one’s own strengths is so efficient and, I’d argue, necessary in working toward social justice.

Nuñez arrived in Kampala on July 9 and has been making the transition from North Camden to a city in East Africa fairly easily. His frequent trips to visit family in the Dominican Republic has helped him learn to adjust to different cultures, he said.

“I guess you don’t ever know what life will throw at you,” he said. “I figured I could control my future as much as possible (i.e. my college, my major, my friends), but I never would have thought I would find myself in East Africa helping to mobilize the movement for health equity.”

For someone whose has devoted his years of study to modern technological means of communication, Nuñez is plainspoken about his desire to work 7,000 miles from home. “Because I want to make a difference in the world,” he said. “Because it makes me sad that people suffer unnecessarily.”