By Brenda Branswell
In the wake of the deadly attack in Burkina Faso, Tammy Chen, BEd’07, is being remembered for her kindness and passion for teaching – and her deep commitment to helping others.
A Montreal native, Chen was among 18 people killed on Sunday, Aug. 13, in the attack at a restaurant in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital. Her husband, Mehsen Fenaiche, also lost his life.
Newly married and pregnant, Chen had been teaching in Burkina Faso, according to a media report.
“We’re deeply saddened to hear of Tammy’s death,” said Dilson E. Rassier, Dean of the Faculty of Education at McGill.
“She was an excellent student at McGill, where she did her teacher training, with so much potential ahead of her. On behalf of the Education Faculty and the wider McGill community, we extend our heartfelt sympathies to her family, friends, students and colleagues.”
Chen began her studies at McGill in 2003 in the Bachelor of Education Secondary Social Sciences program.
After she graduated, she went on to earn a master’s in education from Queen’s University. She taught in Toronto for four years, including in the French immersion program at Glen Ames Senior Public School in the Beaches. During that time, she also co-founded a Canadian charitable organization called Bright Futures of Burkina Faso to carry out microcredit and education projects in that country.
She left in 2013 to pursue her PhD at the University of Cambridge, the Toronto District School Board said in a statement.
“Tammy is being remembered as a very passionate, charismatic and diligent teacher by her colleagues at Glen Ames …. Not only was she respected and well-liked by students, parents and colleagues, she was always willing to go the extra mile to help students,” the board said.
Chen was finishing her PhD in international development at Gonville & Caius College (part of Cambridge), where its flag flew at half-mast on Tuesday. Her doctoral work focused on poverty, gender and women’s empowerment, according to the college.
Hugo Larose, the president of Caius’ graduate students’ union, said all of Chen’s friends felt she was “extraordinarily kind and caring” – the type of person the world sorely needs in times like these.
“Though many academics dedicate their life to improving the human condition, Tammy went many steps further, working tirelessly in some of the poorest parts of the world,” Larose said.
Others expressed their shock and sorrow in moving tributes online. One noted that Chen dedicated her life “to the most noble of causes: helping others.”
Another post said: “Your passion for learning & teaching, and compassion for others all over the world will never be forgotten. You literally made the world a better place.”
“I can’t tell you how sad this makes me,” one woman wrote on Facebook, calling Chen a mentor to many, including the woman’s daughters. “She taught fairness and strength and love and compassion.”
Another Canadian, Montrealer Bilel Diffalah, who was volunteering with a Canadian international development program in Burkina Faso, was also killed in the attack.