A group of leprosy children on the seesaw. This photo was taken in the 1930s.

A group of leprosy children on the seesaw. This photo was taken in the 1930s.


An Unfulfilled Dream - Esther's Story

When I was 16 years old, I was told by my adoptive parents that I was adopted. My foster parents are New Zealanders so I obviously looked very different from them and their biological children anyway.

In August 2006, I started to search for information related to leprosy and my biological parents' background from the Internet. That's how I came to know about an author, LohKahSeng from Singapore. Through him, I was put in touch with the person in charge of the old records in Sungai Buloh - Lily John. From there, the journey in search of my roots began.

In April 2008, my husband, three children, and I set foot in Sungai Buloh for the first time. PhangSiewSia, the author of "The Valley of Hope" took us to visit my biological mother's former neighbour, Laura. I will never forget the moment she came out of the house and smiled at me. She clasped her hands in front of her and said that I looked just like my mother. My heart skipped. She also said that my father was very tall and thin.

All my life, nobody had ever described my biological parents to me. I grew up in a small town in New Zealand. There weren't many Chinese. I remember frequently looking in the mirror and wondering why I looked the way I did. I was SO different. To be told I looked like my mother was hugely emotional.

Esther found her father's date of passing recorded in a book in the settlement's temple.SiewSia then brought us to visit the Buddhist temple where the staff showed me a written record of my father's death. Later, we went to the women's ward where I met Lee Sow Cheng who told me she had seen my biological mother when she (my mother) was pregnant. Sow Cheng was also in the same ward as my mother and remembers the day my mother passed away.

Since returning from Malaysia, I have felt a huge sense of grief and loss and my research has been put on hold. The pain is too strong.

Before this, I found out I hadan uncle. I discovered that my uncle was last known to be working in a market in Kuantan Road, Penang, so in 2008, I took another trip to Penang. I walked down the road where my uncle was believed to be working and stopped to talk to complete strangers. I found strangers who were more than happy to help me in my search. I spent a week in Penang and talked to quite a number of people and visited a few places to try and find my uncle but I kept coming to a dead end.

The fact that I didn't begin my search earlier is one of my biggest regrets. In many ways, my biological parents were so close yet so far away. I was married in 1987. My father passed away in 1997. If I'd known about them and that they were still alive then, I would have done everything I could to go to Malaysia and visit them. All my children were born before 1997; he could have met all three of them. But in reality, I would not have been able to do the research I've been doing since 2006, because there was no such thing as personal computers, emails and internet then. All I have found out has been because of technology. But, that is life. One must live with regrets.

For some bizarre reason, we were destined never to meet.

In September 2010, I restarted my search for my relatives. This search led me to a Christmas Island (the last known place of my father's sister) community website where I finally found my aunt and cousin! I was so excited. We chatted on Facebook and I was able to ask my aunt (via my cousin) many questions. I was particularly delighted to hear that my auntie had tried looking for me a few years back and was extremely happy to have heard from me. I also discovered that I have a sister! My cousin said that it was one of her mother's burdens knowing that her brother had had two girls and she hadn't known where they were. My sister had apparently been adopted by an Indian family. I have no idea where she is.

Esther's late parents lived in this chalet. My cousin also put me in touch with my uncle in Kuala Lumpur and I am still hoping to hear from him and get further information about my father. The best thing was the fact that my auntie was able to send me a photo of my father. It has been hugely emotional to see, at last, my father.

At present, I am awaiting more information to help me find my sister. So, my journey in search of my roots is not over yet. I would still like to find my mother's family. I suspect though that they may not want to hear from me because when my mother contracted leprosy, she was kicked out of the family home by her husband and told never to return. She had also had a son before she was segregated. So I also have a half-brother!

This photo was taken on 19th April 2008.  This view is what Esther saw on her first root-seeking trip here.Whilst I am excited and overwhelmed by all the discoveries I have made, I still fear being rejected by people who have had some association with this debilitating and horrific disease. I hope that one day, people will look back on history and realise some of the awful decisions that were made by governments.

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