March 11, 2016
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO ─ At Pixza, a small pizzeria in this capital city, five slices equal social empowerment.
An electronic board above the counter shows the number of slices sold. For every five slices sold, one slice is given away to someone who is part of a drug rehabilitation program.
As of early February, Pixza has given away 1,034 slices, Alejandro Souza says.
Souza, 29, opened Pixza in June 2015 as both a restaurant and a program that helps people who live in drug rehab centers to get jobs, and it all starts with free slices of pizza.
Mar García, GPJ Mexico
Once someone has received five free slices, he or she is asked to do volunteer work, either at the restaurant or in the community, before becoming eligible to receive more free pizza. After another five slices, he or she must volunteer a second time. After that comes a shower, a haircut, a shirt, a doctor’s visit and a one-day skills and confidence workshop. That’s all provided through Pixza’s social empowerment program called “La Ruta del Cambio,” which translates to “The Path of Change.”
Anyone who completes that workshop is offered a job at Pixza or at another partner organization, Souza says.
“All of this is a hand that accompanies, it’s not a back that carries,” Souza says. “And people go as far as they want to go. Pixza makes this possible.”
So far, five people have completed the workshop, and three of them work at Pixza, Souza says.
Among them is J.C. James Rafael Alvarado Hernández. Alvarado, 18, has worked at Pixza since November. Before that, he’d checked into a local rehabilitation center and served about nine months in a juvenile detention facility for marijuana possession, consumption and sale. For him, Pixza is a way to make a break from that life.
“I like to go to the delivery of the slices and see the commitment of the people that are there,” he says. “It makes me happy that they want to get ahead.”
Alvarado’s changing future is evident to people who knew him before he started at Pixza.
Mar García, GPJ Mexico
Rodrigo Ortiz Trejo, who worked at a rehab center where Alvarado was in treatment, says he’s seen Alvarado’s life improve.
“He already has a life plan,” Ortiz Trejo says. “He wants to live independently; he doesn’t want to return to the street. He wants to take on his studies again.”
Programs that help former addicts discover their own abilities are key to rehabilitation, says Mauricio Pérez, a psychologist with a focus on drug addiction. Souza’s program does that, he says.
Souza says his program helps people reject the stigmas associated with past drug abuse.
“There’s a mental switch where the message is no longer, ‘You’re a victim, and I help you because you can’t.’ The message is, ‘You have validity, you have an identity and you have to give of yourself,’” he says.
Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.