Early in life Plamen faced difficult circumstances which meant that Christmas wasn't always a time for celebration. When he was a toddler, his father left the family and was unable to offer them any financial support. After a few years of caring for Plamen alone, his mother, Dana, started a new relationship and they moved in with her partner.
"He accepted my eldest son and we were one happy family. Poor, but happy. I became pregnant very soon into our relationship," says Dana. The baby arrived a month before Christmas, and was named Chris. That Christmas, the family enjoyed modest celebrations with one-month old Chris.
"Plamen and my husband decorated our modest tree. With our TV broken, we were spending a quiet Christmas Eve. We had a small wood heater in the living room which gave crackling noises. Outside it snowed. It was magical."
A change in circumstances leaves family terrified and alone
Baby Chris was about five months-old when Dana discovered that she was pregnant again. "We weren't thrilled, but accepted the new bundle. At least that's what I thought," says Dana. A month before the new baby was due, Dana's partner left her and never contacted her or his sons again. Terrified and alone, Dana fell into a deep depression.
"My mum would just sit by the window and cry," remembers Plamen, now in his mid-teens. "Baby Chris was making his first steps and he was walking sideways because his support was the coffee table instead of mum. Everything was dark, cold and sad that December."
Grandparents offer sanctuary
Unable to pay their rent, Dana and her two boys moved in with her parents, who live in an impoverished neighbourhood on the outskirts of Sofia. Plamen’s grandparents were a vital source of support for the family during this hard time. "My grandpa would wake up at dawn to light the stoves. By the time we got up, both rooms were warm. Grandma made me a small corner to study".
"Grandma set the table for every meal like it was a holiday," Plamen recalls. "We don't have a high chair, so Chris sat in her lap. Mum would hardly touch her plate. She kept quiet all the time. After a few meals, grandma stopped making her join us."
Plamen's mother supported to overcome depression
While the boys adapted to life with their grandparents, their heavily pregnant mother still struggled to overcome her depression. The bleak environment only deepened Dana's despair. After the delivery of her third child, she had no desire to see the newborn, even to find out whether it was a boy or a girl.
The doctor who helped with the delivery of the new baby sought to prevent a family separation, and got in touch with SOS Children's community programme in Sofia. Tsveti, an SOS social worker, explained how Dana's family could be supported.
With new hope that she would get the support she need, Dana and baby boy Ognen returned home after three days in the hospital. SOS community programme supported the family through a range of tailored services, including counselling for Dana.
"My favourite Christmas"
With support from SOS Children to stay together, last Christmas was a special occasion for Plamen's family. Plamen describes the special day:
"Grandma set the table and we all ate. Half the time we were standing up or chasing the young boys. After dinner, grandpa let my brothers ride him like a horse. Both had red cheeks, shrieked with joy and cried with laughter. To be honest, I don't know who was happier: my brothers or grandpa. Mum and I sat by the stove. Tears ran down her face, she was smiling. We were together. She was happy. She is happy. So am I, and my brothers. Of all sixteen Christmases in my life, this one is my favourite."
With continued support from SOS Children, we have hope that for Plamen, Chris, Ognen and their mother, each Christmas will be better than the last, and they will gather fond memories together as a family.