Milena Spasova Partsuneva

National Communications Manager SOS Children's Villages in Bulgaria
photo: © 2018 Stefan Lechner Photography

From despair to inspiration. SOS: a factory for miracles

It is a story about inspiration, although it did not start as such - rather, it started as a story of complete despair and it ended as a story of total despair. It is also a story about magicians and miracles, but above all, it is a story about two girls I met when I started working for SOS Children's Villages Bulgaria.

A difficult beginning - the first SOS baptism
It was in 2012 that I first visited SOS Children's Village Tryavna. The beauty of the village and the hospitality of the director and the SOS mothers delighted me, but my heart quickly sank when I saw the two sisters Nicky  and Vicky. "Saw" is an exaggeration, because they were afraid to look up into my eyes - they only looked at the ground, heads down. Even though they were four and five at the time, they hardly looked their age. I tried to speak to them, but to no effect - they barely spoke. Later, in the evening, we were supposed to have a joint dinner at their house and even though the table was covered with so many delicious things, Nicky and Vicky ate only bread. My eyes filled with tears when I saw Nicky dip her bread in water and eat it this way. This was my baptism in SOS Children's Villages - total despair. Of course, their SOS mum explained that Nicky and Vicky had come to her only two days ago and that this was something normal, yet I could not register it as "normal", nor could I believe her that in a week or month or year things would change - the SOS mum was not a magician and I did not believe in miracles. Besides, what kind of publicity was I supposed to think of? I had my camera with me and I was hoping to take some happy pictures, tell some happy stories. I was a public relations expert and I knew that this would sell well. Well, all my PR dreams were shattered.

An encouraging continuation - the second SOS baptism
I visited Nicky and Vicky six months later. This time, they looked at me and they even smiled when I gave them chocolates - obviously, they had started eating other things than bread. After another five or six months, I saw them again. Their SOS mother could not make them shut up. Nicky was already a first grader and she had straight As at school, but I was especially delighted when she shared with me that she wanted to become an actress. Obviously, I was living my dream as a PR expert. No, I was living my second baptism at SOS - total inspiration. At the end of the day, the SOS mum turned out to be a magician and so were the social workers, the speech therapist and the psychologist who had worked with Nicky and Vicky. The two sisters were living proof that miracles happen at SOS Children's Villages and magicians work there. I felt so inspired that I wanted to shout it out to the whole world, but before that, I had something else to take care of - Nicole's voice. "I want to become an actress" was still echoing in my head. This tiny girl, who barely spoke when I first met her, who was afraid to look in my eyes, now wanted to become an actress. I could do this. I could help her become an actress.

So I immediately put "shooting a movie about SOS Tryavna" in my communication plan. I went with the shooting crew to the village and explained to Nicky that we were making a movie and that she was the main actress - I had never ever seen such a happy child as she was then. The movie was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of SOS Children's Village Tryavna and, of course, apart from Nicky, we interviewed other children and mums. Once the movie was ready, I had to negotiate with a TV station to broadcast it because what was the use of the movie if Nicky could not see herself on the TV? I sent the movie to bTV, the biggest private TV in Bulgaria and asked them for a partnership for the anniversary. They were touched and inspired by the movie and became our media partner.

Under the partnership, they broadcasted the movie one Saturday at prime time. They also produced a short promo to advertise the movie itself and broadcast it five times a day for a whole week - so I guess Nicky saw herself on TV approximately 26 times! And that was not all. The TV station asked me to invite one SOS family to participate in their most popular TV talk show. Can you guess which family I chose? Nicky, Vicky and their SOS mum came to Sofia and quickly became TV stars. I am sure Nicky felt like an actress - in the morning she was in a TV show and in the evening there was a movie with her on the TV.

The dreams of one child as an inspiration and a failure
So far, so good, but what followed really surprised me. People started calling into the TV station to say how impressed they were by what we do at SOS Children's Villages. They wanted to become donors. And here came the best part: the TV station itself decided to organise a charitable sale of their wardrobe and donated the money to SOS. For the first time, we had a media entity becoming our biggest corporate partner. If I stop here, the story would have a happy end, and it would have been classified as an inspirational individual story. If you prefer it this way, you could stop reading now, but the sad part is that there was a continuation.

Three years later, Nicky and Vicky's father got out of jail and suddenly decided that he wanted to take care of them. The social services believed that he could do that, because the presumption is that the biological family is the best environment for a child, and sometimes social services in Bulgaria do not bother to find out what really is best for the children. The two sisters now live in misery, their marks at school have dropped dramatically and there is simply no future for them. This was my third baptism at SOS - total disappointment - for I could not believe that such a powerful organisation is weaker than the law and could allow such things to happen.

Milena Spasova Partsuneva

is communications manager at the national office of SOS Children’s Villages Bulgaria.

Milena is passionate about storytelling and sees it as an important instrument for communicating the brand of SOS. She is convinced that talking about “moments of truth” is more effective than using other traditional and social media channels. The ultimate challenge is to build strong relationships and to establish long-lasting support that is mutually beneficial.

Her parents taught her to do what she loves, and she still lives that motto. What she shares with her husband and son is a passion for travelling, diving, movies and the mutual understanding that all problems can be solved over a good talk.

There are three things in her life that she always carries with her – a good book, her photo camera and her bathing suit (to be ready for a swim at any time). What inspires her most is travelling to a new place and meeting new people.

Milena was born in a small town called Kazanlak – a historical place also called the valley of roses and the Thracian kings. She now lives in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, for her home is where family and friends are.

Video Harvesting Workshop 2018