|UNICEF Pakistan Chief of Education Perseveranda So (second from left) at a temporary learning centre for displaced children in Ziarat district, located in earthquake-affected Balochistan province, January 2009.|
NEW YORK, USA, 10 June 2009 – The continuing violence in northwest Pakistan claimed yet more lives yesterday, when a vehicle forced its way into the car park of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar and exploded. Among those killed in the attack was Perseveranda So, 52, who served as Chief of Education in UNICEF’s Islamabad office.
Ms. So, known to her friends and colleagues as Persy, was a citizen of the Philippines. She had worked with UNICEF since 1994, and previously worked for several years with the development arm of the Philippine Department of Education.
In a statement, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman called Ms. So “a dedicated and highly committed staff member, who worked with grace and determination as Chief of Education in Pakistan, earning the respect and admiration of all those with whom she came into contact.”
Attack on humanitarian principles
The hotel attack, which took place late in the evening, local time, reportedly killed about a dozen people and injured more than 50. The bombing also took the life of a staff member from the UN refugee agency. At least two other UN aid workers were injured.
The Pearl Continental Hotel is frequently used by UN agency staff working in Peshawar, which is the closest major city to the area where fighting between militants and government forces has displaced some 2.5 million people. More than half of the displaced are children.
“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,” said Ms. Veneman. “This is an attack on the very humanitarian principles to which Persy was dedicated, and it is reprehensible and unacceptable.”
‘She will be greatly missed’
In her capacity as Chief of Education, Ms. So was in Peshawar to work on programmes aimed at helping conflict-affected children – particularly girls – gain access to education. Like thousands of UNICEF staff in conflict zones worldwide, she carried out her mission despite the clear risks.
“She will be greatly missed by her colleagues at UNICEF,” said Ms. Veneman. “Our hearts go out to her family and friends, in her home country of the Philippines and around the world, who share our loss.”
During her years in Pakistan, Ms. So oversaw the creation of ‘child-friendly schools’ providing healthy and protective environments for children, part of a global initiative that is now the main thrust of UNICEF’s education programmes. In the Philippines, she had successfully advocated for the passage of the Early Childhood Care and Development Law, which ensured access to pre-school education for children under the age of six.
Tragically, Ms. So is only the most recent in a long line of aid workers killed in the line of duty. In October of last year, for example, UNICEF staff engineer Mukhtar Mohammed Hassan was killed by gunmen in Huddur, southern Somalia. In August 2003, UNICEF Programme Coordinator Christopher Klein-Beekman was killed when a blast tore through the main UN facility in Baghdad, Iraq.