From Afghanistan to uOttawa

Roya Shams stands smiling on the University of Ottawa campus.

Roya Shams’ journey

Now in second year in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Roya Shams dreams of law school and a life devoted to helping others. She is working towards the launch of a charity that will help underprivileged girls — and boys — in her homeland, Afghanistan.

Five years ago, Roya Shams’ high school education was cut short by death threats from the Taliban.

Her father, a police officer who believed that his five daughters deserved an education, was killed by the Taliban in 2011. Shams dropped out and went into hiding later that year, after an educated young woman who had been her friend and mentor was gunned down on the street. It seemed her dream of pursuing a university degree was over.

But Toronto Star reporter Paul Watson, who had interviewed Roya and her father for a series of stories, helped her get a scholarship to Ashbury College in Ottawa. She finished high school and enrolled at uOttawa, the recipient of the Roger Guindon scholarship, which is awarded to students who have overcome or are dealing with significant hardships.

Today, she is settling into second year at the Faculty of Social Sciences. She is also working towards the launch of a charity that will help educate street kids — both girls and boys — in her homeland.

There has been a lot of focus on how difficult it is for girls to go to school in Afghanistan, but Shams says underprivileged boys also need help.

“Equality of opportunity is very important. I know what it is like to want an education, to feel like all doors are closed and then to have people open them for you. I want to do that for girls, but also for boys. These children are the foundation of Afghanistan’s future.”

Life in Ottawa hasn’t always been easy, but Shams, now 21, has made friends, works part time and volunteers, helping to raise money for refugees. Her English has improved dramatically since she arrived in Canada. She is also picking up French, and next year hopes to take her electives in what will be her sixth language. 

She is thinking about law school and dreaming of a future in which she will be able to make a difference in the lives of others.

But she struggles at times and misses her family. She worries about loved ones in Kandahar, especially her mother, who has health issues. During her darker moments, she reminds herself how far she has come and what a privilege it is to be at uOttawa.  “So many people at home dream of studying at a university,” she says.

She is grateful to all the people who have helped her, including University of Ottawa donors.

“There are many reasons in my heart that make me strong, make me stick with it,” says Shams. “The University of Ottawa bolsters all of them.”

Scholarships are a priority in the University’s Defy the Conventional fundraising campaign. Join us, and open a door for a student like Shams.

In 2015, the University of Ottawa launched a $400 million fundraising campaign. Defy the Conventional: The Campaign for uOttawa is raising funds to support priorities in every faculty. The campaign will help uOttawa recruit and retain top talent and enrich the student experience.  Donations will also support innovative capital projects.

 Nora Abdalaal, Shams, Salimata Tounkara and Grace Delevante.

Roya Shams and some of her new friends. From left: Nora Abdalaal, Shams, Salimata Tounkara and Grace Delevante.


Father Roger Guindon Student Assistance Fund

Donors of $500 or more are entered into the Tabaret Society

Your gift will help us offer major financial support to incoming students who have overcome or are dealing with significant, long-term life challenges.

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