Stories of Change

D in Café Bar 16.

Serving Up A Brighter Future in Belgrade

D* lives with her four siblings and their grandmother in one of Belgrade’s informal settlements. She had a turbulent childhood that was characterized by constant moving and instability. Six years ago, D’s parents separated. Her mother took all five children from Serbia to Germany. They lived in poor conditions and didn’t go to school, so German social services got involved. The authorities contacted D’s father in Serbia, who brought the children back to Belgrade.

After she returned to Serbia, D started visiting the CWS-supported drop-in shelter for children who are or who are at risk of living and working on the street. The children who visit the shelter live in informal settlements like the one where D lives: their houses are made from boards and supplies that have been cobbled together, and water and bathrooms are scarce. The drop-in space is a place for children to hang out, study, eat a meal and take a shower. The shelter staff also help parents connect their families to important services like schools and healthcare. D began to make friends and readjust to life in Belgrade.

After a while, D’s father left his children with their grandmother and moved on. This was a pivotal moment in young D’s life, when she was forced to grow up almost overnight and care for her younger siblings.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and things got worse. Conditions in settlements like D’s got even more appalling. People were confined to the small sheds where they live and earned even less money than usual due to restricted movement. D’s family was facing a bleak outlook.

The drop-in shelter staff offered a lifeline: an employment program at Café Bar 16, the social enterprise connected to the shelter. It’s a coffee shop in Belgrade where teenagers can learn how to become servers and baristas in preparation to work in one of Belgrade’s many cafes. D, who is now 16, liked the idea and knew it could be her chance to support her family during the pandemic.

D regularly attended the training course, passed her final exam and earned her certificate. She had a great work ethnic and was extremely motivated. She even had a job interview with a potential employer, although she decided to continue the training course instead. D has also decided to enroll in high school, saying that she has realized that education will be a solid foundation for independence and progress in her life. While she goes to high school, she will look for a part-time job.

D says that when she thinks about the future, she sees an educated young woman who provides for her siblings and grandmother.

*We are only using the first letter of her name in order to protect the identity of a minor.