Forget Pablo Escobar. Colombia now has a native son it can take pride in.
No, not the country’s newly elected President Ivan Duque. He’s impressive enough — a 42-year-old family-man who is unafraid to pray in public and a whole lot better than opponent Gusatavo Petro who has boasted of his stint as a leftist guerrilla. No, I am talking about Daniel Moreno, recent college graduate who’s living in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, preparing for his next impressive act.
This unassuming 23-year-old from the country’s coffee-growing region inspires care for Colombia’s poor in a way that no political movement, left or right, has done in this struggling South American country.
Mr. Moreno wasn’t born when police gunned down Pablo Escobar in December 1993. He grew up in the years of Colombia’s slow crawl toward something close to internal peace and security. The government took down the narco-traffickers, and the leftist guerrillas (turned narco-terrorists) became less relevant after signing a peace accord with the government in late 2016.
Mr. Moreno grew up privileged, to be sure. He studied at an exclusive, private, all-boys Catholic school. At his home in a posh, gated community on the outskirts of the mid-sized city of Manizales, a loving (and beloved) housekeeper did her best to spoil him. He was on his way to becoming just another wealthy Latin American, who considered comfort a birthright without any corresponding social responsibility. But, then, something happened to Danny Moreno.
Like many of Colombia’s affluent young, he went to study in Bogota, the country’s densely-populated and chaotic capital city. There, at the prestigious Universidad de los Andes, Moreno noticed that some classmates on full scholarship went without meals during the long days of study. He started visiting cafeteria and restaurant owners in the neighborhood surrounding Los Andes. They were profiting from the insatiable appetites of Los Andes’ wealthier students, he pointed out. Wasn’t it time they set a place at their tables and counters for the university’s poor students? On Facebook and at campus rallies, Danny also encouraged his classmates to contribute to the effort. The result? Los Andes’low-income students now receive free breakfasts and lunches at locales around campus.
Young Danny Moreno, it turns out, was just getting started.
After completing his senior thesis at the beginning of this summer, he arrived in Washington, D.C. to refine his English and soak up American culture. The region’s civic order and unlimited commerce astonished the young Colombian, but something commonplace got him thinking. He observed American moms passing on to their neighbors gently-worn clothing. Danny wrote to his friends back home and suggested they look in their closets for what could be shared with their neighbors in need. From a living room in the suburbs of Washington, the idea of “el Gran Ropeton” (the Great Clothe-athon) was formed. Mr. Moreno sent out word via Whatsapp and interest grew.
A week after sending his first text, a city-wide clothing drive kicked off in Mr. Moreno’s hometown of Manizales. The mayor learned of the drive, spread the news, and coordinated the collection effort with local police. Clothes were gathered at different places across town, sorted and packed. On a blistering Saturday, volunteers distributed parcels of clothing to inhabitants of a shanty town. There, residents — mostly single mothers and their young children — live in squalor in homes with dirt floors and makeshift walls. “In Colombia,” Mr. Moreno says, “there are many fathers who fail to respond.”
Mr. Moreno and his network of friends have responded in their place. That day they distributed parcels filled with gently-used clothes to more than 400 families.
Mr. Moreno recently returned from Colombia to D.C. He plans to pursue an advanced degree here. It’s safe to say he won’t be focusing exclusively on his own professional development. If his short but already impressive history is any guide, Danny Moreno will be contemplating what else can be done to build a better life for needy Colombians.
• Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is a legal advisor with The Catholic Association Foundation