Canadian woman killed in Burkina Faso terror attack remembered for big heart and sense of adventure
Tammy Chen was only 33 when she was killed in a terrorist attack Sunday in Burkina Faso.
Chen was among 18 people who were killed when two gunmen stormed a café in the heart of the country’s capital city, Ouagadougou.
Her family says they have barely begun processing her death.
“Everything still seems too surreal,” her younger sister Tiffany Chen told Global News.
“It is such a tragedy to not only lose my sister, but her loving husband, and my unborn nephew all at once.”
Chen was six months pregnant at the time of the attack. Her husband, Mehsen Fenaiche, was killed as well.
Just last month, Tiffany accompanied Tammy to her ultrasound.
“We bought a ridiculous amount of clothes for my nephew that are all sitting in my house,” Tiffany said. “I know she and Mehsen would have been exceptional parents.”
Chen was working on a doctorate in international development at Cambridge University and planned to finish it in October, before the baby was born.
“She absolutely loved school,” her sister said.
Chen went to McGill University and then Queen’s to do her Master of Education. It was during her time there she made her first trip to Burkina Faso. She later moved to Toronto where she worked as a teacher.
One of her former students Luca Dannetta says Chen was more than a teacher.
“She was the kind of person who took real pride in her work, in everything she did she strove to be the best,” Danetta said.
“She saved me from going down a self-destructive path, she reversed my apathy towards education, she awoke the passions in me that have made me the man I am today….it’s because of her that I want to be a teacher.”
But something about Burkina Faso stuck. Chen began making the trip more often, falling in love with the country and its people — including her husband.
“As soon as I met him and saw them together, I knew that I may never have my sister back in Canada all to myself,” her sister said.
Chen then co-founded a non-profit organization, Bright Futures of Burkina Faso, and worked for the UN on women’s empowerment projects in Ouagadougou.
“She devoted her life — academically, personally and emotionally — to the welfare of others and trying to improve the lives of the less fortunate,” Tiffany said.
Asked why, Chen’s sister recalled a childhood memory.
Tammy had been searching for her favourite perfume for over two years. On a trip to Thailand she finally found it and was so thrilled she slept with it every night.
One day she was at the beach and met a young homeless girl. They became fast friends — so much so, Tammy gave her the bottle of perfume, insisting she deserved it more than herself.
Tiffany says that’s exactly the type of caring person her sister was.
“These qualities my sister possessed at a young age, inherited from our mother, blossomed as she became an adult and she has impacted the lives of countless people around the world,” she said.
“Many people talk about pursuing adventure and helping to change the world, but very few people in their lifetime go out of their comfort zone to take action and touch the souls of so many and change lives the way my sister has.”
Those lives include her family’s. Tiffany was six years younger than Tammy, but they were often mistaken for twins.
“Anyone who was going to be lucky enough to spend their life with my sister, knew that it was a two-for-one deal, and they would be stuck with me too,” Tiffany said.
“She brought me everywhere with her and she always pushed me to be the best I could be.”
A date has yet to be set, but Chen will be remembered by family and friends at a private service in Hamilton.
“I want people to remember Tammy as the passionate, generous and lovely person that she was,” her sister said.
“She was no ordinary person.”
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