“I saw my father crying, and it was the first time I had seen him cry, and then we lost our home and had to move out really suddenly, and then a few months later I got rejected from all the colleges I applied to, all in a really short period of time.”
But Ernesto Nam turned these difficult months into something beautiful, maximizing his gap year to work on causes he was passionate about while also prioritizing personal growth and understanding.
During his family’s financial crisis, Ernesto was already working at a Habit for Humanity type foundation called TECHO, which ended up being a tremendous source of inspiration for him.
“While all of this was happening, I was given the opportunity to be the leader of a construction with TECHO, which was a 10 week process,” Ernesto said. “I was the first teenager to lead a construction of mainly college students.”
He began spending between 20 and 30 hours a week helping organize a five day long construction build homes for vulnerable communities, which was the biggest such construction of the year, and reoriented Ernesto’s perspective and giving him a great source of happiness.
“I was helping people who had pretty much nothing, and they were happy because they were getting a home,” Ernesto said, “and I was sad because I had pretty much everything but a home for a short period of time.”
All of this combined to push Ernesto to start a nonprofit during his gap year because he did not want to rely solely on TECHO to be able to impact people’s lives. So, he started Englobar as his social impact passion project and also started tutoring people in his community to help his parents financially as much as he could because he was a champion Math Olympian as well.
Englobar aims to tackle several prevalent societal issues while motivating volunteers to positively contribute to society.
“Starting in Paraguay and Latin America, we see that besides having a bad education system, a bad societal system, and a lot of corruption, there is a bigger problem of widespread hopelessness,” Ernesto said.
He harped on hopelessness as the biggest problem because it leads to people contributing less to their communities, and that is exactly what his organization aims to combat through education. While they focus on teaching those less privileged, Ernesto did not stop there, noticing the potential of privileged people to help their communities as well if they knew how to.
So, while they teach reading and basic mathematics to their students so they can follow what their interests truly are, they also do leadership activities and environmental education so that their students have a solid foundation and the ability to effectuate even small change.
Englobar is currently in Paraguay and México with over 250 volunteers.
Ernesto was not only able to turn an unfortunate situation into a positive one, but he has rewired his thought process on the future and what is important to him too. After applying to only the top American universities, he now realizes the name of the school is not what matters but what he is able to do with his education, and his maturity and experience now radiates off him.
“From my experience in high school for TECHO I found my passion for helping those less fortunate,” Ernesto said, “and then with my family situation I really found my true north.”