The Late Dr. Roshan Hirji ThomasPublished on 15 May 2014 Hansard and Statements by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to a great friend and a great Canadian, Dr. Roshan Hirji Thomas of Vancouver. We both came here from Uganda. Roshan was one of two Canadians, along with Zeenab Kassam of Calgary, killed in Afghanistan.
Roshan was an optometrist, and with her ophthalmologist husband, Rahim Thomas, dedicated themselves for more than three decades to serving marginalized populations in Canada and around the world, including Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Roshan’s interest in education stemmed first from her own role as a mother and her desire for her children to have better opportunities than she did. Through her work, she realized that this same hope united all mothers and fathers, irrespective of their apparent external differences.
In 2003, Roshan travelled to Afghanistan and opened an Early Childhood Development Centre in Kabul: The Sparks Academy. The program has grown to encompass six centres, with 900 boys and girls currently enrolled.
Roshan also worked to provide opportunities for young Afghans to equip themselves with the best of Canadian and global education. Now there are dozens of Afghan students who have been educated in Canada, including Pearson College and Mulgrave School.
All of Roshan’s work, as was her family’s tradition for years, was almost entirely privately funded by her family, with her time and knowledge given on a voluntary basis.
As a Canadian Ismaili Muslim, Roshan Thomas’s life reflected Islam’s fundamental belief that the plurality of humanity is a deliberate gift from our creator, and that only by bringing people together from different traditions, cultures, and backgrounds can we truly understand we are all the same.
Her schools embodied this most Canadian and Muslim ethic in Afghanistan, serving children of different ethnicities, religions and genders. Her schools created a small corner reflecting the best of Canada, where kindness, tolerance, and deep care for one another were values which were celebrated and cherished.
Roshan believed that her life would be judged based not on what she achieved, but what she enabled others to achieve.
Honourable senators, Roshan Thomas was taken from her husband, Rahim, and children Karim, Rishma and Samira, and all of us in Canada, far too soon. But based on the lives she touched and enabled, hers was a life well lived, and we are proud as Canadians, as Muslims and as Ismailis to celebrate her as one of our own. Her spark will continue to inspire us for years to come. She leaves an amazing legacy for all of us.