March 21, 2019 / 1:58 PM / 3 months ago

REFILE-Disabled Serbian waiters fight discrimination with free drinks and good service

(Changes publication date to March 21)

BELGRADE, March 21 (Reuters) - Afternoon trade is brisk at the Zvuci Srca cafe and arts workshop - the first centre 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, criticised 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.

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

The government-backed centre 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. (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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