03/21/2014 12:30 EDT | Updated 03/22/2014 12:59 EDT

Roshan Thomas Dead: Canadian Killed In Afghanistan

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.

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Photo gallery Roshan Thomas, Canadian Doctor Killed In Afghanistan See Gallery

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

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Photo gallery Recent Violence In Afghanistan (SOME GRAPHIC IMAGES) See Gallery