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The morning is very dynamic in the restaurant “Lonato” in Mostar. Tables are prepared, glasses wiped, food is taken out of the oven and served on platters. Excitement is in the air. Guest are to arrive.

Text and photo: Vanja Stokić; Video: Ajdin Kamber

This is probably not the type of restaurant you are used to. It isn’t in the city centre, with advertisements and online reviews recommending it to you. It isn’t not one of your Google search results. You can find the place only if you’ve already heard of ‘Lonato’ and you know how important it is to visit it.

Foto baza

Opened within ‘Los Rosales’ Centre for Children and Youth with Special Needs, ‘Lonato’ restaurant employs 19 persons with intellectual disabilities. They are being trained to work in hospitality, they have an opportunity to earn their own money, make new contacts and have a social life.  Finally, they are being prepared to work in an open market, outside a specialized association. Most importantly, this includes them in society and makes them an active part of it.

‘This means so much to me. So, so much… Time runs faster than when I’m home’, says Skender Mustafi while setting a table for guests.

Skender Mustafi, Foto: Vanja Stokić

He is an assistant cook; in addition to preparing food, his tasks are serving guests and cleaning the place. Everything is done according to a fixed schedule.

‘I’m here from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter. Guests are happy and have smiles on their faces. I wasn’t coming for a month because I got COVID-19. I missed it during that period. I missed my job so much… I was bored just sitting at home’, says he.

This is his first real job. He worked as a salesman earlier but without social security.

Rusmir Bakamović operates the dishwasher.  He takes his job so seriously that he doesn’t allow anybody to get close to his workplace.

‘They are all my friends’, says he briefly.

They are all willing to talk to us and are not bothered with cameras or microphones. There are also three persons without disabilities working in the restaurant. They are the chefs. They described how the usual day starts – hand washing, putting on the uniform and cleaning the kitchen. After that, they prepare breakfast for the residents of the Centre.

‘We often have guests and they like it. They come to have birthday parties. We are having some guests right now. All children are happy that somebody will come. This is something very important to them. They like to have somebody come, so they meet each other and hang out.  There is sometimes crying and sometimes laughing. It’s all normal. They are all obedient, cheerful and hard-working, and they feel like valuable members of society. They have the sense of being useful. They earn their pay, that’s very important to them’, says cook Fadila Duvnjak, while one of female workers approaches to kiss her shoulder. Just like that. Out of respect and kindness.

Kuharica Fadila sa svojim pomoćnicima, Foto: Vanja Stokić

The restaurant is closed at weekends, which makes the workers very sad.  On Friday, Monday seems too far away.  In a society that marginalizes the different, it’s hard to say who faces the strongest prejudices.  It’s for sure that persons with intellectual disabilities are among them.

‘Using their services is the best way to help them and the best kind of donation. Allowing them to work and earn their salary, to live independently’, says Miro Rebac, the director of the company ‘Radin’ d.o.o., a part of which is restaurant ‘Lonato’.

The name of the company is short for ‘work and inclusion’. Apart from the restaurant, ‘Radin’ includes workshops where persons with intellectual disabilities make jewellery, watches, magnets, picture frames etc. These handiworks are sold at a shop near the Old Bridge.

A study entitled ‘Employing Persons with Disabilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina’, prepared by Inga Biščević and Arnela Pašalić, indicates that employing anyone with a disability faces many obstacles. The situation is particularly difficult when it comes to persons with intellectual disabilities.

Due to the very nature of the disability, communication and social skills in persons with intellectual disabilities are underdeveloped. Therefore, it is necessary to create educational programs to develop communication and social skills. Šafranko and Škrinjar (2003) report that, by using appropriate methods and procedures, the majority of persons with intellectual disabilities can be enabled for productive work and included in a form of production or provision of services.

The paper also indicates that it is necessary to additionally foster the employment of this group to equal their employment opportunity to that of other citizens.

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