Miriam Hyman (32) was on the Number 30 bus in Tavistock Square, London on 7 July 2007when Hasib Hussain blew himself up. Miriam was a freelance picture researcher and was on her way to work. She was also an artist, creative, outgoing and extremely well-liked by her large circle of long standing friends and relatives. I only had to look at the remarkably overwhelming number of profoundly felt tributes that have appeared online and in the printed media over the past three years to appreciate this. On the day in question, Hussain and his cohorts planted a series of bombs on the London transport system with the sole intention of bringing maximum death and maiming to the UK’s capital.The bombs indiscriminately killed 52 people and wounded 700 others.
Miriam’s sister, Esther, says that as her only sibling, Miriam (Mim) was her closest confidante and that their relationship was irreplaceable. But after 7/7, instead of apportioning blame in public, Esther reached out to Muslim groups near her Oxford home. She wanted to make contact with them after the attacks, to extend the hand of friendship and to make sure that they knew that she did not lay any blame with them as a community. Esther believes that all of the current problems have come about because globally we are divided. Her belief is that if she can show that what she wants is unity then other people can do the same.
She and her family have spent the three years since 7/7 keeping Miriam’s memory alive with a series of events. They were adamant that something positive could emerge from such a dreadful event. They wanted to honour Miriam by setting up the Miriam Hyman Memorial Fund, which supports a charity called ORBIS, an international charity for the prevention and treatment of blindness in the developing world. Miriam studied the History of Art with French at University College London and went on to create many pastels, oils and silk paintings and it seemed only fitting that the Memorial Fund should set out to help the visually impaired.
In 2006, the Miriam Hyman Memorial Fund supported an eight-week ORBIS fellowship at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, for Indian paediatric ophthalmologist, Dr Kuldeep Srivastava. He is head of the Children’s Eye Care Centre at Sadguru Netra Chikitsalaya (SNC) an eye hospital in Madhya Pradesh.
The fellowship developed Dr Srivastava’s ability to provide children’s eye care services, and he will provide training for colleagues in the skills he acquired in London. During the fellowship Dr Srivastava was mentored by consultant ophthalmologist John Lee, a leading figure in paediatric ophthalmology. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Esther Hyman, and we discussed the Miriam Hyman Memorial Fund, the connection with India, her feelings about 7/7 and Miriam’s legacy.
I found Esther’s attitude and outlook to be deeply inspiring, particularly after what she and her family have been through. After having talked with her, I realised that Esther and people like her are instrumental in sowing the seeds that can one day make the world a better place.
Can you say why you decided to set up a memorial fund after 7/7?
We, Mim’s family and friends, felt the need to respond positively to the events of 7/7 and we set up a memorial fund in order to do some good. The difficult thing was to decide what to do with the fund. We considered many possibilities, including scholarships and the like. Miriam herself was a fund-raiser for charities. A friend of Miriam’s brought the charity ORBIS to our attention.
Why did you decide on a vision-based charity?
It’s a bit of a spooky story actually. Although Miriam didn’t have a connection with ORBIS, their aim is to eliminate avoidable blindness globally, and we knew that she would identify with this. She very much valued the gift of sight. She discovered in her teens that she was short-sighted, and when she first wore glasses and was able to see the leaves on the trees, it was a revelation to her. Now for the spooky bit. One day, mum was in Mim’s room, and she asked out loud – “Mim – I need some kind of sign – I just don’t know how to use this fund!” The next morning, she got a call from Mim’s closest friend who didn’t know that ORBIS was one of the possibilities that we were considering. She phoned mum to tell her that she had had a dream but didn’t know what it meant, but she knew that she had to call mum and tell her about it.
She had dreamt that she was sitting next to Mim who was carrying a white walking stick. In the dream, she was very concerned, and she tried to ask Mim why she had the blind person’s stick and what was wrong, but Mim didn’t answer. Then she woke up and felt that she had to call mum straight away. Well, mum asked for a sign: could it be any clearer?
What is so unique about ORBIS?
There are a few things that are particularly important to us about the way they work. Firstly, they aim to train practitioners to use simple, cheap operations to restore sight; for example, in the case of cataracts or squints, where a simple cheap procedure can completely restore sight, which is life-changing.
Secondly, they train practitioners to train others so the benefits of the training are multiplied. Finally, ORBIS invests the capital and uses the interest; therefore the money can be used in perpetuity.
How did the connection with India come about?
ORBIS operate in many countries and when we found out that the first person to be supported was to be a paediatric ophthalmologist from India we were delighted because we have a family connection with India: my mother is from Calcutta. In addition, I was a teacher so was delighted that he was a paediatrician.
The truth is, it was by chance that ORBIS allocated the support to an Indian practitioner. Nevertheless, we felt that it was a way of redistributing something from the West to the East. Moving on a little, I see by Dec 06 the fund had raised 56,000 pounds. This must be a big part of your life now.
It is time and energy consuming, but it is a healthy focus for our energies. As for keeping it going, we don’t have any strategy as such for the future of the fund. We are still surprised and delighted that it has continued this far, but we will continue to raise money for the MHMF and to hold any other events that seem appropriate for as long as it feels right. Not all events have been fund-raisers you see.
More a celebration of Miriam’s life?
I think of it this way: I feel that Mim sowed seeds during her lifetime, and that she has left to us the responsibility of nurturing those seeds and helping them to flourish. The MHMF is one vehicle for this. She was such a positive person. I feel that she gave her life, in these particular circumstances, in order to do more good than she was able to do in life. That’s the kind of person she was. I believe that Miriam was also a bit of an activist. Yes, Miriam took part in those huge anti-Iraq war street protests in London, a few years back.
And what about your views?
I have tried to avoid apportioning blame in the public arena because I don’t feel that it serves any constructive purpose. I don’t expect to be able to change world politics, but I must try to influence for the better, within my reach. I would also like to use my public voice to promote good relations between the Muslim population and the wider community.
Just one final thing, two years on, how do you feel about the people who planted those bombs… anger, forgiveness…?
Really, I just feel that they are misguided souls. I feel sadness; not an all-consuming sadness as it was at first, but a gloomy sadness at our unending capacity to set ourselves against each other. But at the same time I am determined not to be ruled by negativity. It would be so easy to go into a huge downward spiral, but right from the start my support systems have been so very strong. I am blessed and I appreciate my blessings. If I have lost my sister, at least I have 32 years of good memories, and no one can take that away.
Since that interview, the MHMF has now changed direction by putting all of its efforts into financing the newly built Miriam Hyman Children’s Eye Care Centre (MHCECC). It was officially opened in Bhubaneswar, India, on July 3, 2008. “Through the Miriam Hyman Memorial Trust, we have made something positive come out of the events of 7/7, which is a fitting legacy for my sister, a woman who was so positive herself,” says Esther Hyman, to whom the opening of the centre was very significant. She adds “Two of Miriam’s great loves were nature and art, and she was aware that she would not be able to appreciate these so fully without the gift of sight.”
Over £70,000 has now been raised by the trust, which will be used to fund high-quality, comprehensive eye care for children attending the centre, irrespective of the ability to pay. State-of-the-art surgical facilities will be made available as well. There will also be specialist paediatric teams on hand. In addition, the trust will strive to increase awareness of the high incidence of avoidable childhood blindness in developing countries, which is especially important for India which has approximately eight million blind people, of which one million are under 16.
The newly opened MHCECC is part of the L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), which is a globally recognised Centre of Excellence. Esther and Miriam’s parents, Mavis and John Hyman, initiated the collaboration between the trust and the LVPEI. Mavis Hyman says, “The MHCECC will be a living memorial to Miriam. This would have given great pleasure to Miriam who visited India twice with us. She felt a strong connection with the country and its people.”
Esther travelled to India for the first time at the inauguration of the centre. She says, “The children who benefit from services at the centre will experience an improvement in their quality of life and life chances as early diagnosis and treatment of many conditions can significantly reduce the debilitating effects of visual impairment on a growing child.”