The David Brown Children's Eye Care Centre
A Personal Reflection
by Edward Hickman Brown
In 1977 I was working in France as an expatriate employee of the Paris subsidiary of a large American multinational. When David came into our lives in March of that year and joined Soona, our daughter Shirin and me, our life was transformed. The next two years were wonderful; we thought we had everything. Apart from this superb addition to the family, I had a very good job at a senior level. Soona did occasional translations from home, but her main function was looking after the kids. And Shirin was doing very well at the British School of Paris, handily located in a town a few miles from the green and pleasant one where we lived. The latter was itself a 20-minute train ride to my workplace at La Defense, the then new Paris business centre full of skyscrapers, located just outside the city.
David was a beautiful little boy. He was energetic and active. And a charmer; everyone who met him fell in love with him. A couple of months prior to his second birthday he became quiet and his activity slowed down. His paediatrician sent us to a specialist and the terrible news was that he had leukaemia – the worst possible form of the disease, which we later learned was virtually incurable at the time. The treatment was harsh but he rarely complained. And he fought hard. At one point the doctors gave up on him and stopped the treatment. David made a spontaneous recovery and his treatment started again. But the inevitable happened and our perfect little boy was taken from us, aged only two years and eight months, in November 1979.
We were completely devastated, each of us in our own way, and also as a family. But we somehow survived. Recovery took a very long time. But, as time goes by after a tragedy, human beings fortunately always seem to remember the best times while memories of the worst fade. Our Davydoo has stayed with Soona and me; we think of him constantly. Shirin now has two young children of her own and lives a long way from us in New Zealand. She has a very full and active life but she still invariably phones us on Davy's birthday and also on the day he left us.
Shirin graduated from the University of Durham in the UK in 1989. Her fi rst job was in Japan and she then spent several years in Spain, before returning to the University of London and completing a postgraduate degree at the end of 1996. Until then, like most working families, we supported various charities in a modest way. In mid- 1996, with Shirin no longer requiring help from us, I decided that we could support certain organizations that we admired in a much more signifi cant manner. While we are not especially wealthy, our income had become in excess of our needs. And this also gave us a method of remembering David and keeping his name alive, by providing such support in his memory.
The charitable organisations we worked with mainly were Oxfam and the Leukaemia Research Fund (LRF) in the UK, and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) in Copenhagen. With Oxfam we supported projects in various parts of the world but mainly in the subcontinent – mostly India – and Africa. They generally concerned health, children's education, self-help programs, usually for women, agricultural innovation and environmental protection. In most cases plaques were provided by the recipients in memory of David, though a school we rebuilt in the Kibera slum in Kenya was named for him, as was a skills centre built for the SOS Children's Village in Botswana.
For LRF, most years we requested and were provided with details of specialized equipment they needed for research projects they intended to support in the near future. We chose a project that particularly appealed to us and provided the funding. As a result, there are plaques mentioning Davy's name on highly specialized incubators, centrifuges, nanodrops and microtomes, etc. in UK hospitals and university research centres.
With IRCT our projects concerned various publications relative to their extensive worldwide anti-torture centres. Also translations, for countries into which they needed to be smuggled. Soona and I almost always agreed on which projects to choose for all the charities. On the rare occasions when we differed, hers was invariably the better choice.
We found these activities rewarding but also felt that they were transitory by nature and would have been interested in something that was more direct, signifi cant and permanent. By chance, in July 2008 I read an article on the BBC World Service website about the children's eye care centre that was funded by the Miriam Hyman Trust in a successful collaboration with LVPEI. It dealt with Esther Hyman's trip to Bhubaneswar for its inauguration. I was touched by Miriam's tragic story but extremely impressed by her family's bravery and positive action in memorializing her in such a useful, ongoing fashion. I managed to contact their mother, Mrs Mavis Hyman, and explained our situation to her. Mavis Hyman was very helpful in providing details of their experience and she spoke very highly of LVPEI's levels and standards. She was sympathetic to our needs and described Dr G N Rao in glowing terms. She suggested that I contact him and provided me with his email address.
I did some research and was amazed by LVPEI's current status and its rapid progress over the years. What impressed us most was that people who could not afford to pay received exactly the same treatment free of charge.
After that everything moved rapidly. I provided some of the above details in my email to Dr Rao. He replied immediately, expressing confi dence that something similar might be arranged for us in memory of David. After a considerable amount of detailed correspondence and telephone conversations, Soona and I visited Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam at the end of 2008, with the intention of funding the CECC at the latter tertiary centre. We were very impressed with the dedicated staff at Vizag and were most disappointed to learn, when looking through the previous year's Annual Report on our last evening there, that it had already been named in advance for another major supporter. This had been overlooked.
At that point, Dr Rao advised us that a new tertiary centre was planned for Vijayawada, to be built by the end of 2010, and we immediately agreed to wait for it to be constructed. This was probably a blessing in disguise because the project was somewhat beyond our means, amounting to a little more than our total contributions during the previous 12 years. But we were determined to go ahead and were thus provided with extra time to fi nd the funding. At the end of 2009 I wanted to revisit the fi rst two temples that I had ever seen with Soona in India in 1973. They were Konarak and Puri. Only when making the travel arrangements did I realize that the nearest airport was Bhubaneswar. So we were also able to visit the Miriam Hyman CECC while we were there, and were extremely impressed by its very effi cient operation under Dr Kesarwani. We owe a huge thank you to the Hymans for the inspiration. And to Mavis for all her help.
After we transferred the funding for Vijayawada, we received a singular email from Nag Rao. What he said about our munifi cence was very nice of him but not all that important. But he ended by saying that because David's CECC exists, over future years hundreds of thousands of children in the area, who would not otherwise have had it, would be given the gift of sight. Who could ask for more than that?
Furthermore, the inauguration ceremony was more than we could ever have hoped for. We loved the layout and the decoration of the Children's Centre and we were pleased to meet Dr Niranjan Pehere who will be running it. His attitude and reputation impressed us. He promised to do his utmost to make it the very best CECC within the LVPEI group. During his speech, Dr Rao said, "We are happy that we are doing it here. It is 5 miles from where I was born; 5 miles from where I started my education. And 5 miles from where I got my wife!" Soona and I believe that "the 5 mile man" will take a very special interest in the progress of the Vijayawada Tertiary Centre. And, given that, we also believe that Dr Pehere has a pretty good chance of achieving his objective.