Feel Good Friday: Svratiste

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In a small, brightly-colored backstreet house in Belgrade a teenage girl is drying her hair, while two others eat lunch in the kitchen. A group of boys are having their temperatures checked at the entrance as a precaution against coronavirus.

It’s another busy day for Svratiste, or Roadhouse, Belgrade’s first daily drop-in center for street kids that for years has been a rare oasis of warmth and comfort for the Serbian capital’s most vulnerable inhabitants.

Since opening in 2007, Svratiste has welcomed hundreds of children — some as young as five — who have come here to warm up, wash or eat. With social isolation growing and the economic situation worsening in the pandemic, the center’s role has become even more significant.

While Serbia has a nationwide network of social care centers and institutions for the underprivileged, Lukic said the street kids often slip under the radar.

”They are a separate (social) group and should be treated as such,” she insisted.

Funded by donors and people who regularly bring in clothes and other aid, the group recently set up another center in a new part of town and has cared for 1,400 children over the years.

Apart from providing food and clothes, the Svratiste team has also sought to help the children socialize and get to know their town by visiting playgrounds, cinemas and theaters. A key effort has been to include them in the education system and make sure they stay. During the pandemic, the center helped with online classes that most children have no means of following.

One of their success stories has been Bosko Markovic, now 18, who first came to Svratiste five years ago. With the center’s help, Markovic has finished high school and now has his eyes set on becoming a policeman, he told the Associated Press.

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