Just nine years ago, Alejandro Hernandez was a rowdy and aggressive six year old, acting up in his primary school classroom on the rare occasions that he attended. Alejandro, his three siblings, and parents lived with his grandmother in a small house behind Puebla’s largest open-air Market. His mother, Lulu, worked as a housewife, while his father, Roberto, barely made a living as selling soft drinks from a cart. Home life was difficult for Alejandro and his siblings. Both Lulu and Roberto were physically abused as children; the violence and abuse was now projected onto their four children. Roberto suffered from severe alcoholism, and sometimes did not return home until very late at night, if at all. When he did come home, he was typically angry and drunk which resulted in violent fights and abuse towards his wife and children. Lulu would retaliate by continually belittling Roberto to the children, which would only provoke more of his aggression.

Although Alejandro and his older brother, Miguel, were enrolled in their local school, their attendance was sporadic at best. When the two did attend, they were unfocused and behind in their studies. On the days they were absent from school, time was typically spent helping their father in the market or wandering around the nearby streets.

One day, Alejandro’s teacher spoke with Lulu and explained that Alejandro’s inability to concentrate and participate, along with his inconsistent attendance, was grounds for having him kicked out of school. The teacher, aware of the JUCONI programmes and the Centre near the market, suggested that Lulu contact JUCONI for help. Rather than see Alejandro expelled from school, the teacher hoped the family would get the help they so desperately needed. In spite of the teacher’s recommendation and JUCONI’s established reputation in the surrounding neighbourhoods of the market, Lulu was highly reluctant to seek out help, and had little previous experience in accessing services. At the further encouragement of a neighbour, she decided to visit the Day Centre and investigate. A staff member approached her, and she shyly explained Alejandro’s behaviours and that his teacher had recommended JUCONI. Could JUCONI help her family?

Upon confirming that the family met the criteria (lived nearby, and did not earn above $12/day) JUCONI educators immediately began working with Alejandro and his family. JUCONI educators began family sessions in their home, working with Roberto, Lulu and the four children together. The JUCONI family educator worked to open the lines of positive communication between the family members. When first given the opportunity to speak, Lulu aggressively communicated her resentment towards Roberto. She was irritated that he was even present at these meeting. She felt that he had been an absent father, and he did not deserve to be included in the JUCONI programme and could never be part of a solution. She blamed him entirely for the family turmoil.

In response to Lulu’s anger, the JUCONI educator began to work with her individually to overcome her feelings of resentment. Gradually, Lulu came to realise that Roberto would need to be a part of any positive change, and eventually accepted his presence in the weekly therapy sessions.

Given Roberto’s drinking, which instigated abuse, JUCONI educators worked with him to combat the root of his problems; they worked to heal the emotional wounds he carried from his abusive childhood. Roberto learned to constructively communicate his frustrations and anger with his family rather than turning to alcohol. Once Roberto’s life became steadier, he was able to hold his first steady job with a construction company. While family therapy continued, JUCONI educators ensured that Alejandro and his brother remained in school. The boys were given weekly reinforcement by the educators; no longer were they behind, but instead, on par with their classmates. Alejandro’s younger brother and sister were also given stimulating learning activities so that they began school with a solid academic foundation.

Within several years of Lulu approaching JUCONI for help, the family was functioning as a cohesive unit. They had developed the capacities to communicate, and importantly, respect one another. Violence and abuse were no longer part of the daily cycle, and Alejandro and his siblings were regularly attending school. The family has since moved into their own house, much further away from Hildalgo Market. Family therapy sessions have ended and JUCONI educators no longer visit the home.

Lulu still helps at the JUCONI Centre, sometimes cooking or cleaning, as a symbol of appreciation and gratitude. Alejandro’s older brother has completed secondary school, and he now works with his father at the construction company. The two younger children consistently attend school. While most of the family interaction with JUCONI has ended due to the distance and their newfound stability, last year, at just 14, Alejandro was the youngest student accepted into the Benteler Automotive Apprentice Programme. For three years, Alejandro will take classes and work to eventually earn a paid position in the Benteler Factory. The factory supplies auto parts to the nearby Volkswagen plant in Puebla.

Alejandro, too, understands the importance of his success. He will be the first in his family to have completed secondary school and subsequent specialised training. My father has told me to keep going. He is illiterate, and he wants better for his family. Alejandro and his family admit that they still work to communicate openly with each other. Years of violence and abuse are not easily erased. However, when the family encounters a problem, they all work together to find a solution that benefits everyone. Alejandro credits his family’s success and his bright future to JUCONI: Today, thanks to all the help we received, we are a happy family.