Roshan Thomas was born in Uganda, and immigrated to the UK with her family in the early 1960s. She obtained her degree in optometry from Aston University in the UK before moving to Canada in 1984. Over the years, Roshan dedicated herself to serving marginalized populations in the developing world, through projects in various countries, including Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Beginning in the early 1990s, Roshan and her husband, Rahim (an ophthalmologist), set up eye programs and donated surgical equipment to hospitals and health care centres in Tanzania and Pakistan run by the Aga Khan Development Network. In the late 1990s, their work providing eye care and surgeries in Pakistan brought them in contact with the Afghan refugee population for the first time.
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 abroad, she soon realized that this same hope united all mothers and fathers, irrespective of their apparent external differences. When she saw an opportunity to help realize this maternal and paternal desire in Afghanistan, she did not hesitate.
In 2003, she travelled to Afghanistan for the first time, and in November of that year, she opened an Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centre in Kabul with 50 students: the Sparks Academy. Over time, with support from her family and the community in Afghanistan, the program has grown to encompass six ECD centres, with 900 students currently enrolled.
In addition to her work in early childhood, Roshan established the Sparks Scholars program. This initiative supports Afghan high school and university students to benefit from advanced education opportunities outside of Afghanistan, with a commitment that they return to serve their country with their time and knowledge.
Roshan was involved in many other education initiatives. She coordinated the selection process for the United World Colleges (UWC) in Afghanistan for many years. She served on the Board of Governors of the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), the Boards of Directors of Mulgrave and Stratford Hall Schools, and as President of the Canadian Club of Vancouver. She was an active volunteer with the institutions of the Ismaili Community in Canada and overseas.
Roshan was in the final stages of completing her PhD in Education at the University of British Columbia, focusing her dissertation on answering the question (in the context of Afghanistan): what is worth knowing and who decides?
In March 2014, Roshan tragically lost her life in Kabul when the hotel where she was staying was attacked.
In May 2014, Senator Mobina Jaffer from British Columbia paid tribute to Roshan's life in the Canadian Senate. A copy of her remarks can be found here. In July 2014, Roshan's alma mater, Aston University, conferred upon her the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa. A video of the ceremony can be seen here. On December 15, 2014 Mulgrave School established the Roshan Thomas Scholarship, which will continue the work Roshan started in providing scholarships to students from Afghanistan to attend Mulgrave School. On January 30, 2015, the Texas International Baccalaureate Schools held a Roshan Thomas Day for Children to honour Roshan's contributions to education globally. In June, 2015, the University of British Columbia conferred Roshan with a posthumous Ph.D. for her doctoral work.
Roshan's legacy will be carried forward by her loving husband, Rahim; her three children, Karim, Rishma and Samira, her granddaughter, Inaya; and the many young men and women in Afghanistan who simply called her 'mum'.