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Disabled Serbian waiters fight discrimination with free drinks and good service

 

Reuters

Belgrade, Serbia  /  Fri, March 22, 2019  /  11:03 pm
Disabled Serbian waiters fight discrimination with free drinks and good service

Marko, who has Down Syndrome, serves drinks in Zvuci Srca cafe in Belgrade, Serbia, March 20, 2019. (REUTERS/Marko Djurica)

Afternoon trade is brisk at the Zvuci Srca cafe and arts workshop - the first center of its kind in Serbia's capital staffed entirely by people with disabilities.

Marko, a 29-year-old waiter with Down Syndrome, collects plates and takes orders. "I love to be diligent, to serve guests here", he says.

Campaigners say attitudes to disabilities have improved markedly in recent years - particularly after the European Union, which Serbia hopes to join, criticized the quality of service in state institutions in 2007.

But many still face discrimination, they say - an issue that Zvuci Srca, or "Sounds of The Heart", was set up last month to address.

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"We have been trying for 18 years to show the potential of people with disabilities, to integrate them into society ... and this center is the pinnacle of our work so far," said Zvuci Srca director Goran Rojevic.

The government-backed center in downtown Belgrade runs a cafe and a workshop that produces and sells bags, cups and lanterns. Drinks are free but patrons are invited to leave tips.

A total of 15 people, from teenagers to people in their mid-40s, work up to eight hours per day as waiters, bartenders, seamstresses, painters, sellers and musicians.