Tributes pour in for “extraordinarily kind” McGill grad killed in attack

Posted on Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tammy Chen was among 18 people killed on Sunday, Aug. 13, in the attack at a restaurant in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. / Photo courtesy of the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund

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.

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3 Responses to Tributes pour in for “extraordinarily kind” McGill grad killed in attack

  1. Rena Entus says:

    May she rest in peace. May she live on in the memory of those she loved and respected and those who loved and were touched by her.

  2. Sheryl Bond says:

    I had the privilege of working along side Tammy during her graduate studies at Queen’s University, and as she joined the Toronto District School Board and then the University of Cambridge, we became close friends as she tirelessly developed her passion and practice for creating dynamic learning opportunities for children from the streets of Burkina to her classrooms in Toronto.

    Often when I thought I was mentoring Tammy it turned out she was mentoring me. We laughed about this.

    Tammy was enormously big hearted and kind; she laughed, a lot. Her intellectual curiosity was infectious. And, when others became complacent or tired from trying to improve the quality of life of women and children living in poverty, Tammy reached out across domains of class, race, and entrenched narrow thinking to make a real and immediate difference in the everyday lives of people.

    We were having lunch together less than two weeks ago and it was clear to me that Tammy was exactly where she wanted to be in the world, doing the work to which she had dedicated her life, and deeply in love with her husband, Mehen Fenaich, and their soon to be born child.

    She made the lives of all of us who knew and loved her joyful.

  3. Debra Manning says:

    I’m very saddened by the sudden loss of Tammy in such an evil and senseless attack. I know she and her sister Tiffany are the pride and joy of their mother. My thoughts and prayers goes out to Nancy, Tiffany and the rest of the family during this difficult time. xo

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