By Danny Butterfoss
As the birthday song blasts and “FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS DANNY BUTTERFOSS” scrolls across the tiny bar’s single TV screen, I look over to the wiry young costeño in the makeshift DJ booth, dressed in his usual form-fitting t-shirt and jeans. As he acknowledges me with a wink and a thumbs-up, I think of how lucky I am to have him as a counterpart.
When he is not DJing in one of Suan’s three discotecas, David Andres Molina Almanza, 22, works as an elected youth representative to the mayor’s office. He is also Project Manager of Fundesuan, an NGO dedicated to community development, the host of two local radio programs, and a student at the University of Atlántico.
Often, it seems, the most talented and ambitious Suaneros leave for Barranquilla or abroad. David, however, has no plans to leave. When asked about his hometown, David recites its founding date and quotes from the town anthem before concluding, “Suan is a small town, but with great people. The people are happy, friendly, cordial, and for outsiders, they embrace them as if they were from Suan.”
He also admits that Suan has its problems. One problem became apparent the day he was elected in July 2012. “Out of 3,000 youths, only 143 voted. The apathy of young people was a huge problem. They weren’t motivated. They didn’t want to participate,” David explains.
His first priority as youth representative was to change that, by reactivating youth groups that already had existed. He approached church leaders, where there were only five active youth group members. Now, according to David, more than eighty youths participate in three different church groups. Next, he went to the Casa de Cultura to strengthen cultural activities for youth, and also brought youth development projects to schools. Recently, David submitted a proposal to the mayor’s office for a sexual and reproductive health project.
With a leader as dynamic and dedicated as David in town, at first I doubted if a Youth Development Peace Corps Response Volunteer like me was needed. Luckily, David never did.
“You [Peace Corps volunteers] are important for us. People can see you as an example. You left everything in your country to come here, and that is something to admire, because it is difficult. And you can help us. You can also contribute to the community.”
Despite his successes, David sometimes feels discouraged. Of the nine youth representatives, he says, only four or five actively work on projects, and trying to address problems like lack of job opportunities, teen pregnancy, and drug addiction can be daunting.
“Often I feel alone in my work,” he admits, “but I have a lot of great friends and family who always motivate me. When I’m tired, or I think I can’t do something, their words motivate me.”
He also takes pleasure in the simple rewards of his work with youth: “When a child gives you a smile, or someone tells you, ‘thank you,’ these things motivate me more than money,” he says.
At the moment, David is not sure if he will run for youth representative again. He enjoys it, but says he
would like to see other youth participate, and do an even better job than him. In the near future, David wants to complete his history thesis, study another subject, and find a job that will allow him to support his family.
And beyond that?
“One day I want to be mayor of Suan,” he says. “That’s a dream. When? I don’t know, but some day.”
I once saw David get knocked out cold during a soccer game. As he went up for a header, an elbow to the temple left him crumpled in the dirt, motionless. After David’s teammates helped him groggily to the sideline, the crowd turned their attention back to the game. But out of the corner of my eye I noticed something. There was David, standing at midfield, pressing a chunk of ice to his head and lobbying the assistant referee to let him back in the game.
David applies this same never-say-die attitude to his community work. Some day, maybe, it will take him all the way to the mayor’s office.