11 June 2009

UNICEF mourns the death of a great colleague

“At the time of the bombing, the hotel was housing many humanitarian workers there to provide life-saving assistance to Pakistan’s most vulnerable people. This is an attack on the very humanitarian principles to which Persy was dedicated, and it is reprehensible and unacceptable."

Yesterday, the entire UNICEF Manila staff found out that one of our former UNICEF Philippines colleagues, Perseveranda "Persy" So, was killed in a hotel bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan on late Tuesday, June 9, 2009. Persy, as the Chief of Education for UNICEF's Islamabad office, was in turbulent Peshawar at the time of the incident, working on programs to help conflict-affected children gain access to education.

On that fateful Tuesday evening, suicide attackers shot their way past the Pearl Continental Hotel guards and set off a bomb within the hotel perimeter which left 11 people killed and 70 wounded. Persy was one of the casualties. She would have turned 52 this June.

The news came as a shock to us, especially to the senior staff who had worked with her when she was UNICEF Philippines' Chief of Education from 1994 to 2000. The silence in the conference room, where all the Manila staff were gathered, was so palpable after our Country Representative relayed the sad news. And then I heard it: the sound of sobbing that could no longer be suppressed. It came from one of our senior officers, who had worked closely with Persy for the last two decades or so on UNICEF's education programs in the Philippines and in the region.

It was such a heartbreaking sound. Even though I never knew Persy, I could feel the tears gathering at the corners of my eyes. And the people in the room looked so somber and near to tears.

Nobody likes hearing about tragic deaths, and the news of a UNICEF colleague killed in the line of duty is one of the saddest things I've ever heard. She was a dear friend and co-worker to many of us, and the senseless way she was killed stirs up very powerful emotions within us and begs the question: Why? Why her? Why do good people have to die that way? Her untimely demise is also a reminder of how possible it is for us in UNICEF--any one of us--to encounter death while we are out there in the field, in the remotest areas, in conflict-ridden places, providing the critical assistance that children need.

For her to be working in such a dangerous conflict area at that time simply meant that she loved and embraced her job with such passion and commitment, that she was wholly dedicated to the cause for children. As a close colleague of hers had said, Persy indeed lived up to her name.

We in the office have been reading news reports on her death and touching messages about her character for the past 24 hours. I've been looking at her photos, and I find her beautiful and gentle-looking. So many people have much to say about her personality and all the wonderful things she has done, and this left me thinking that in spite of the suddenness of her passing away, she died nobly, in the middle of fighting for the rights of children suffering from war. Her own life was not spared from that same war, but we are very sure that the selfless work she has done for the underprivileged children in Pakistan and in the Philippines will be remembered and carried on by other UNICEF staff.

My heart goes out to the family, friends and fellow UNICEF staff who have been fortunate enough to know Persy. She was loved by so many.

In memoriam: Perseveranda So, 1959-2009.


Post a Comment