Serbia: Empowering Disabled People Throughout the Country

April 9, 2013

Recongnizing the need to improve social inclusion around the country, the Government in Serbia is working with the World Bank Group to raise awareness and provide services for disabled persons around the country. With grants to more than 80 organizations, the Delivery of Improved Local Services (DILS) project increase the capacity of institutional actors and beneficiaries in order to improve access to and the efficiency, equity and quality of local delivery of health, education and social protection services.

Vesna Kostic, World Bank Senior Communications Officer, Belgrade Office

Too often, Serbia's disabled stay at home, out of sight and out of mind. Attitudes and laws are starting to change; the disabled are gaining self-esteem and society is learning to be more accepting.

But it has been a long road and there are still many challenges. Tackling them at the local level has been an effective way of chipping away at the large obstacles facing Serbia's disabled.

With the World Bank support, the Delivery of Improved Local Services Project (DILS) has funded a wide array of local groups that raise awareness and provide services for the disabled so they can live more active and independent lives.

And it has transformed the way the government evaluates, funds and scales up support for local initiatives that help the disabled.

" Through this project, we managed to test services and to find out which ones are important to beneficiaries, which ones make their lives easier and include them in society. And later we made these services sustainable at both the national and local level. "

Vladimir Pesic

Assistant Minister of Labor and Social Protection

The project gave grants to over 80 organizations around Serbia, including that of former military officer Mihailo Pajevic. He formed a national association for paraplegics and people with spinal cord injuries and pushes for enforcement of laws and regulations. Paralyzed from the waist down, Pajevic successfully petitioned to tear down and rebuild a brand new pedestrian crossing in Belgrade. Although the law said a wheelchair ramp was required, it had none. Pajevic says that is common.

"The problem in Serbia is you have a legal framework but there is no implementation," says Pajevic.

Pajevic organizes sports events and lobbies to make it easier for paraplegics to access public buildings, to obtain drivers' licenses and get a job.

Disabled teenagers in the municipality of Velika Plana in central Serbia have found jobs with help from a local non-government organization funded through DILS. Staff from the NGO "Volja za Zivotom" talked to over a dozen of the larger local employers, explaining what tasks the youth could perform, and they responded.

" Two young people with cerebral palsy are working in the municipality and one works packaging cheese. "

Borjanka Jovanic

Member, Volja za Zivotom

Jovanovic also ran a campaign raising awareness for families with disabled relatives and for society at large. She sees a lot of improvement in this municipality of 44,000.

"Through our activities, the relationship between people without disabilities and those with disabilities has improved. People without disabilities have become more open towards those with disabilities, and people with disabilities have gained much more self confidence, they come out of their homes and break their isolation," says Jovanic

The NGO opened a club for young people with brain injuries, where they can take workshops, learn computer skills and socialize. It has transformed the lives of people like Nebojsa Stevanovic, who comes to the club as often as he can.

"I sat at home, I did exercisees, and I looked for a suitable job over the internet. Without the club, I don't know what I would have done," says Stevanovic.

Another organization that has made a big difference in Serbia trained sign language interpreters for the profoundly deaf to communicate with local officials, courts, teachers and doctors.

That's a huge relief for thousands of Serbs like Tonka Ilic, who has been deaf since childhood. Forbidden for years from using sign language, she was forced to enter a profession that did not interest her. She had trouble communicating with her doctors which led to her undergoing a procedure she later discovered was unnecessary.

Number of organizations provided with grants under the DILS Project in Serbia
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