Who knows where a chance encounter might lead?

For Juana Isela Guerrero Puga, an intellectually disabled member of the L’Arche community in Querétaro, Mexico, the answer is… a new job, new colleagues, new horizons, and with it, a new self-confidence.

And it all started when Juana and others from L’Arche were enjoying a trip to the local mall. On the escalator to the next floor, they happened to catch the eye of a man travelling in the opposite direction: Señor Cesar Granada, the owner of a restaurant chain called Señor Wings. Fortune smiled: Señor Granada needed workers for his supply warehouse, and Señorita Juana Isela was ready for a new challenge!

Things moved quickly: Señor Granada was aware that in Mexico only a small percentage of people with disabilities ever find stable employment; and for around half of the general population, the only work they can find is casual labour. As a man committed to social development, Señor Granada contacted a psychologist whom he knew, Laura González Bernabé: would some members of L’Arche like to try their hand in the Señor Wings packaging factory? Remembering Juana Isela had experience in food service and capacity for leadership, Laura didn’t hesitate: Juana Isela would make a great candidate.

Four years later, Juana Isela has more than fulfilled Laura’s confidence, taking great pride in her work on the warehouse team. By her own effort, she has proved herself capable of holding down a stable job, putting in the hours that make for success.

Juana Isela and Atilio Araujo Soto

Like other employees, Juana Isela’s journey to work brings its own demands: every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, she travels on her own from her home to an unassuming square building in the El Pueblito neighbourhood of Querétaro. She navigates the uphill cobbled street until she reaches the front door, where she enters, greets the people inside, and then gets to work.

And there is a lot of work to do! The warehouse supplies all four restaurants in the city, ensuring they are well-stocked with frozen chicken wings and onion rings, a variety of sauces, ketchup packets, and after-dinner candies–the essentials for the successful casual wings-and-beer stop. Juana Isela’s job is to separate and organize the plastic bags that will be packed with frozen foods, allowing the staff in charge of packaging to work quickly and efficiently. She also packages small items like after-dinner candies and packages of sauces.

Being a wage-earner is naturally a source of great pride: “Before, I couldn’t help at all, but now that I’m making some money, I can help out at home,” she says. “With the water bills, the electricity, things like that.”

Juana Isela works hard for her money, but she is up to that challenge: achieving her goals has always meant facing into life’s adversities. She first joined L’Arche as a child while still living at home with her mother. One early challenge was learning to walk. This was more difficult for her than most youngsters, due to her disabilities, which also impact her concentration and fine motor skills. But, in an early sign of her characteristic determination, and with the skilled encouragement of L’Arche assistants and her caring family, Juana Isela’s confidence grew, along with her capacities.

"Pan de muerto"

A major change of life happened nine years ago, on the death of Juana Isela’s mother. Without the person who had cared for and protected her throughout her life, Juana Isela found herself having to make decisions that were new for her. She took the major step of traveling to and from the L’Arche workshop on her own–a journey that involves two different buses and a significant uphill walk.

And she is still gald to be part of the baking group at the L’Arche workshop, on the days she doesn’t work at Señor Wings. Over the years, her skills have been recognised and she has become a leader in the bakery, organizing fellow members and carrying out complex tasks like weighing out ingredients. Now with the rest of the team Juan Isela confidently turns her hand to pizzas, cookies, tamales, and Mexican specialties like pan de muerto, a sweet bread eaten and placed on altars during Day of the Dead festivities.

In addition to bringing reliable income, Juana Isela’s job at the warehouse keeps her access to the full suite of state benefits, including healthcare and housing credits, that all Mexican workers aspire to.

Core members participate in art and artisan activities

A big advantage of working at Señor Wings has been making new contacts with people outside her family or the L’Arche community: a valuable learning experience on all sides. Her supervisor, Atilio Araujo Soto, is a Venezuelan migrant who arrived in Querétero a year ago after making the long and dangerous journey through Central America to Mexico. Not unlike people with disabilities, migrants in Mexico suffer discrimination and often struggle to find stable employment.

“I hope everyone can put their hand on their heart and say ‘we’re all human beings’,” said Atilio. “We can’t discriminate and we should all have opportunities in life.”


Atilio Araujo Soto, the supervisor at the Señor Wings warehouse, has learned a lot about working with people with disabilities

Working with Juana Isela has been his first experience working with a person with a disability; while Juana Isela says she’s used to relating to foreigners because of her experiences with L’Arche, she hadn’t met Venezuelans before she started working at Señor Wings. But they work together well! Juana Isela teases Atilio for his inability to eat spicy Mexican food, and Atilio has Juana Isela’s back when occasional misunderstandings arise with her co-workers.

Through her work, Juana Isela has learned that she’s capable of so much more than she previously thought.

“Before, I thought I couldn’t do anything, [but now] I can do things better, I’m improving,” she said. She wants to continue improving personally and at her job every day, and one day to have a home and a family of her own.

“I think I can do it.”

Juana Isela works hard for her money, but she is up to that challenge: achieving her goals has always meant facing into life’s adversities
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