He has an incessant trickle of clients every day and they all call him by his name and ask after his family. Juanma has become a friend to many of those who buy an Once lottery ticket from him, hoping for a win. For years, he has set up his stand outside a bank, beside the ATM cash machines, and has become a great help to elderly people and immigrants who have problems using these machines.
Seventeen years ago, when he was 24, Juanma was injured in a traffic accident and was officially registered as disabled, so he could not go back to his old job in the construction industry. A few years later he started working for the Once organisation and for the past three he has been based in his own neighbourhood, where he knows a lot of people. One day, someone posted a video of him helping an immigrant from Senegal to use the ATM on social media, and it went viral. “Since then, somebody mentions it nearly every day,” he says.
Although he had already helped some people in this way, the pandemic made the situation worse. “Two years ago the banks said everything had to be done via the cash machines,” he says. “I noticed that a lot of elderly people had no idea how to use them, so I offered to help, or sometimes people asked me for assistance”.
He normally helps eight or nine people a day. “A lot of them have difficulty walking or can’t see very well. It is very busy here and they don’t want to ask someone they don’t trust. In fact, some say they wouldn’t withdraw any cash if I wasn’t here,” he says.
For the immigrants, he says, paying taxes is the most complicated thing. “It’s not just a case of scanning a bar code; you have to put a load of information in as well. Some of them don’t speak much Spanish, so that makes it very difficult for them,” he says. “In fact, I had to learn how to do it as well, because I pay everything through my bank account”.
Juanma didn’t realise quite how useful he was being until he saw the ‘I’m old, I’m not an idiot’ campaign begun by retired doctor Carlos San Juan, and his petition which led the government and Bank of Spain to order banks to provide a personal service between 9am and 2pm.
“Until then, I didn’t know this was a problem everywhere. I work for an organisation which helps other people, so that’s what I like to do as well. We share those values,” he says.