Remembering Persy

Wednesday, 09 June 2010 
Exactly one year ago today, a suicide bomb attack on the Pearl Continental Hotel in the Pakistani city of Peshawar took the life of a Filipina UN worker, one among many in this brutal, non-ending spiral of violence spawned by religious and political extremism.

Perseveranda “Persy” So had just came back to the hotel from her field work at a UNICEF school in Jalala camp outside Peshawar where she helped implement programs to assist girls in gaining access to education, when the attack happened late in the evening – a vehicle forced its way into the hotel’s car park and exploded.

Persy was the UNICEF Pakistan Chief of Education who, in the words of her colleagues, devoted her life to lifting knowledge up and pushing ignorance down and was passionately dedicated to ensuring every child’s right to education regardles of gender, race, color or creed.

I had known and met Persy on two or three occasions of dinner invite at her house when she was newly posted here in Cambodia in 2007, after which she moved to Pakistan. She was the sister of Nori whom I had worked with at Concern Cambodia from 2000 to 2002. (After our stints at Concern, Nori moved to Plan International Cambodia until 2008 and I found myself doing community development work for a conservation NGO to this day.) During those times when Nori, who was a programme manager and my immediate boss, would visit and monitor our microfinance project in Pursat province, our conversations would naturally fall into the orbit of family life- the health of our aging parents, bits and pieces about our siblings and slew of nephews and nieces who were growing up fast and marking their own identities with individual quirks and interests to our amusement. And Nori would mention here and there about her elder sister Persy, at the time working with UNICEF in Indonesia. When I finally met her in person in Phnom Penh I was really impressed with her unassuming ways despite her stature and with her dedication to her work. And when she was already in Islamabad she was so kind as to respond to my email to help me out by providing me some information and link to international organizations that were recruiting staff; this was during the time when I thought I was already leaving Cambodia.

From all the beautiful thoughts and remembrances drawn in memory of Persy which I read online, there is but only single thread that holds them together along with my own encounter with her. She was a generous, intelligent, purposeful, and somewhat a formidable woman- the very qualities that put her in such high-level position within the UN bureaucracy. She gave her all in ensuring and improving children’s education in the developing countries. Among her sterling records were the advocacy she did for the passage of Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) law, pioneering multigrade teaching, and implementing the child-friendly school in the Philippines when she was Chief of Education in the UNICEF-Philippines office.
Last May 22nd of this year, UNICEF opened the Perseveranda So Memorial Day Care Center in a remote village of Guimaras, Philippines in honor of Persy. And another day care center bearing her name was inaugurated in Tondo, Manila recently. This is all a fitting tribute to an exceptional Filipina who made an indelible imprints on international humanitarian work and who quietly ascended the high spiritual ground with her strong Christian faith.

Persy in Pakistan (second from left wearing a Khmer kroma/scarf)

Koh Kong, Cambodia


6 thoughts on “Remembering Persy

  1. hi teddy, si mike to.

    did you know that SAMAPI is giving persy a posthumous citation tomorrow in the awards ceremony for the outstanding filipino in cambodia? this will be done within the independence day celebration which will be held at diamond island. so if you’re in PP over the weekend, you might want to attend. $12 ang ticket, includes dinner, drinks + raffle.


  2. teddy,

    on behalf of the OFC working committee and SAMAPI, maraming salamat sa pagpayag mong gamitin namin ang iyong mga salita upang ipakilala si persy so. ang laki ng naitulong nito sa maayos na paglalahad ng mga dahilan kung bakit si persy ang ginawaran ng parangal sa taong ito.

    thanks uli nang marami!

  3. walang anuman, mike. isang karangalan ang makaambag ng pagpapakilala at pagbibigay pugay kay persy sa mga kapwa pinoy at dayuhan. lagi, hindi maaaring malimutan ang kabutihan at kadikalaan ng isang tao sa anumang panahon. salamat.

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