By Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press – Roshan Thomas spent weeks at a time living in Afghanistan’s impoverished communities and opened her Canadian home to youth seeking opportunities outside the war-torn country.
In the comparative safety of a well-guarded Kabul hotel dining room, however, the B.C. woman’s crusade for educational equality came to an abrupt end.
Thomas’s son Karim confirmed the Ugandan-born optometrist was among nine people gunned down in the Hotel Serena on Thursday while enjoying a dinner to usher in the Persian new year.
She died alongside another Canadian, Zeenab Kassam, a 37-year-old from Calgary who had spent the last year and a half volunteering as an English teacher at a school funded by the Aga Khan Foundation.
Karim Thomas said his mother was in Afghanistan helping to screen and select Afghan youth for an international scholarship program.
It was just one of her many efforts to level the playing field and bring new opportunities to the country she had visited regularly for the past 11 years, he said.
“She felt it was important to educate both girls and boys because without that balance of educated children becoming educated adults, you wouldn’t have a society that could progress and develop equally,” Karim Thomas said in a telephone interview from Vancouver.
His mother’s work with Afghan youth began in the mid ’90s when she began volunteering alongside her husband, an ophthalmologist, to provide eye treatment to refugees fleeing Taliban rule.
When those refugees returned home, Thomas followed them and began her crusade for better education.
She opened a school for Afghan children and recently became more involved in offering opportunities for them to study abroad, Karim Thomas said, adding six Afghan youth are currently living in his parents’ Metro Vancouver home.
Karim Thomas said the knowledge that his mother made a genuine difference in the world has helped him, his father and his two sisters cope with the shock of her sudden death, which came months before she was expected to welcome her first grandchild into the world.
“It’s been quite overwhelming, the amount of support, the phone calls, the emails that have come from all over the world with stories about how my mother touched their lives,” he said. “That’s been an incredible source of comfort and strength for us.”