roshan thomas

Roshan Thomas, a Vancouver doctor who started a school in Kabul, has been identified as one of the two Canadians killed in a hotel attack in Afghanistan.

"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," her son, Karim Thomas, said from Vancouver.

Senator Mobina Jaffer, who represents British Columbia, broke the sad news of her friend's death on Twitter on Friday morning. "In true Canadian spirit, (she) worked hard especially for education of Afghan girls," Jaffer wrote.

Thomas — who had three adult children — was going to be a grandmother for the first time, the senator added.

"She was one of the most unselfish people I know," Jaffer told The Canadian Press. "I had just seen her a few weeks ago, she was doing such good work."

Thomas, an optometrist, and her husband, Rashim, an ophthalmologist, provided eye care and surgery in refugee camps in Karachi. That's where they formed a bond with the Afghan community, said The Ismaili, which describes itself as the official website of the Ismaili Muslim community.

“We realised there was something remarkable about a community that shared so generously with us, even though they had survived decades of horror," Thomas told the site in 2011.

The couple followed the community back to Afghanistan in 2003 when they opened an independent school, called the Sparks Academy, in Kabul.

From starting with two suitcases of teaching materials, the school has ballooned from several dozen kindergarten students to now 900 children, reported The Globe and Mail. It is Afghanistan's first school that accepts students only on merit, and is tuition free, said the newspaper.

Story continues after slideshow:

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  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/03/21/roshan-thomas-canadian-killed-afghanistan_n_5007866.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-british-columbia" target="_blank">Roshan Thomas</a>, a Vancouver doctor who the Sparks Academy school in Kabul, was one of the two Canadians killed in a hotel attack in Afghanistan.

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/03/21/roshan-thomas-canadian-killed-afghanistan_n_5007866.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-british-columbia" target="_blank">Roshan Thomas</a>, a Vancouver doctor who started the Sparks Academy school in Kabul, was one of the two Canadians killed in a hotel attack in Afghanistan.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Mothers and teachers spend time developing low-cost resources for the students at Sparks Academy Kabul. This serves many purposes, including preserving the important cultural tradition of needlework, familiarising mothers with the education of their children, and providing the children with much needed locally produced toys.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Numbers 1 – 10 in Dari with pictures sewn by mothers for the Sparks Early Childhood Development Program.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Mothers are engaged with the daily life of their children at the Sparks Academy Kabul, and often enjoy music and dancing when they come to collect their children at the end of the day.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Supplies for the "Birth to Three" program at the Sparks Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Supplies were purchased with funds from a donation made to The Aspire Book Project.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Supplies for the "Birth to Three" program at the Sparks Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Supplies were purchased with funds from a donation made to The Aspire Book Project.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Supplies for the "Birth to Three" program at the Sparks Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Supplies were purchased with funds from a donation made to The Aspire Book Project.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Children play with everyday food items as they learn about the world in which they live, at the National Council Sparks Early Childhood Development Program in Kabul.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Chaks (cement rings) used for the drains in the road to the Sparks Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Funds from a donation made to The Aspire Book Project helped complete the road.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Paving the road to the Sparks Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Funds from a donation made to The Aspire Book Project helped complete the road.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Paving the road to the Sparks Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Funds from a donation made to The Aspire Book Project helped complete the road.

  • Sparks Academy school, Kabul

    Completed road leading to the Sparks Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The paved road will allow children to continue attending school during the winter months. Funds from a donation made to The Aspire Book Project helped complete the road.

Thomas also started a home for widows in Kabul, teaching them how to embroider in the hopes of creating work, she told the CBC's Peter Mansbridge in 2004. More recently, she was involved in offering opportunities for them to study abroad, Karim Thomas said, adding that six Afghan youth are currently living in his parents' Metro Vancouver home.

A refugee from Uganda, Roshan earned her optometry degree in the UK before moving to Canada. She had a masters degree in education and was working on her PhD at the University of British Columbia, according to a bio on the Aston University alumni site.

Thomas had a long history of volunteerism in B.C. She was a past president of the Canadian Club of Vancouver, former chair of the Aga Khan Education Board for British Columbia, and a board director of Mulgrave Independent School in Vancouver.

In an interview with The Vancouver Sun in 2007, Thomas explained how being an Ismaili Muslim, and how leader Aga Khan factored greatly in her life of charity and aid work.

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.

"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."

Brazen attack

Officials say a total of four foreigners were among nine people, including two children, who died when gunmen stormed the Serena hotel Thursday.

The other Canadian victim was Zeenab Kassam, a nurse from Calgary.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird condemned the brazen attack, but said it would not deter Canadians from fighting terrorism in the country.

"Many of these people dedicated their lives to helping everyday Afghans build a better country for themselves, including education, and enhancing the role of women and girls in Afghan society. For this selfless work to be met with violence, especially on the occasion of Nowruz, just further proves the depravity of the Taliban and those who support them."

Jaffer agreed: "For something like this to happen on what was supposed to be a day of celebration it's just horrible."

The Afghan capital has been hit by several attacks, but authorities appeared stunned that the militants had managed to get through the tight security at the Serena hotel — considered one of the safest places to stay in Kabul.

The shooting rampage was the latest in a series of high-profile attacks as the Taliban and allied militants step up a campaign of violence in the weeks leading to the April 5 national elections.

A Canadian analyst in Kabul told The Huffington Post Canada that the attack will hurt the democratic process in the country.

With files from The Canadian Press

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Afghan National Army soldiers investigate the site of a deadly assault by suicide bombers and gunmen against a NATO base in Zhari west of Kandahar city, Afghanistan, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)

  • Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand next to the bodies of civilians at the scene of a suicide attack outside a base in Zhari district, Kandahar province on January 20, 2014 (TANVEER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers are pictured at the scene of a suicide attack outside a base in Zhari district, Kandahar province on January 20, 2014. (JAVED TANVEER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US soldiers inspect the scene of a suicide attack outside a base in Zhari district, Kandahar province on January 20, 2014. (JAVED TANVEER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Afghan independent civil society activists pay tribute to the victims of an attack two days ago, in front of the restaurant in Kabul on January 19, 2014. (SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Afghan special forces soldiers stand guard next to the damaged entrance of a Lebanese restaurant that was attacked in Kabul, on January 18, 2014. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Afghan injured man lies on a military vehicle at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghan security forces arrive at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghan security forces arrive at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

  • An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier takes photographs of a damaged bus at the site of a suicide attack on the Jalalabad road in Kabul on January 12, 2014. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Afghanistan National Army (ANA) personel inspect the scene of an attack in Shinwar District of Nangarhar province on January 4, 2014. (OMAR GUL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The body of a Taliban militant with weapons lies at the site of an attack in Shinwar District of Nangarhar province on January 4, 2014. (OMAR GUL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A suicide attack survivor recuperates at a hospital in Kabul on December 27, 2013. (FARSHAD USYAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Two US soldiers walk at the site of a suicide attack On the Kabul Jalalabad road, in Kabul on December 27, 2013. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Afghan security forces and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) personnel investigate at the site of a suicide attack on the Kabul Jalalabad road, in Kabul on December 27, 2013. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Afghan policeman runs at the site of a suicide attack on the Kabul Jalalabad road, in Kabul on December 27, 2013. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Afghan policeman stands guard near the wreckage of a vehicle which was used in a suicide attack on the Kabul Jalalabad road, in Kabul on December 27, 2013. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Afghanistan police inspect the site of a suicide attack near a NATO military convoy entering Kabul airport on December 11, 2013.(Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images)