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.


Father's Beer Bottles - Julie's story

My adoptive parents told me that I was adopted before I was old enough to go to school, but to this day, I can't actually remember being told. At that time, I didn't internalise what this meant. One day, another student at school told me that I was adopted. I remember coming home and crying and sitting with my parents as they explained how special I should feel as I was "chosen" by them.

Julie's birth certificate. I know how much my adoptive parents loved me. So much so that I never thought I wasn't their biological child. But when I have been asked for my family's medical history, I would be conscious that I had no history. On occasions when people spoke of family resemblances, I would again be conscious that I bore no resemblance to my adoptive parents or my adopted brother and sister.

In July 2006, I suddenly felt an urge to find my biological parents. I spoke to my adoptive mother to ask if she would feel comfortable with me looking for my parents and to reassure her that I loved her and my family and that nothing would change that. It was only at this point that Mum revealed to me that my parents had suffered from leprosy and were unable to keep me; hence my adoption. I immediately started researching leprosy and Pulau Jerejak on the Internet.

51-year-old Julie is an Australian. In 2008, she brought her two children back to the place where she was born Pulau Jerejak. I told my two children about the circumstances surrounding my birth, and also of my hope to return to Malaysia in search of my roots. Both of them easily accepted this and wished me luck in finding my parents.In August 2006, I made the decision to find my biological parents. I was fortunate to meet up with some amazing people who helped me with my research. On the Internet, I happened upon an article about leprosy by a Singaporean scholar, Loh Kah Seng, and started corresponding with him.

Through Kah Seng, I managed to get the contact number of Lily John who had previously worked in the Research Unit Laboratory at Sungai Buloh, so I emailed Lily to ask if she could help find information regarding my biological parents. Within days, she had emailed me back letting me know that she had found both my parents and that they were still alive. My father had remarried and was now living with my stepmother in the East Section of the Sungai Buloh Settlement, whereas my mother was an inmate in the WestSection Women's Ward. Ienquired if they were interested in meeting me and received a positive response. I can't describe the euphoria I felt prior to embarking on this journey.

I compiled two photo albums to show a snapshot of my life in Australia with my adopted family. Two months later, I was headed off with my adoptive mother to meet my parents. It was my first time in Malaysia! I clearly remember the day that I was to meet my father for the very first time. I walked into his quarters and felt a connection instantly, despite our not speaking a common language. I also immediately saw a family resemblance.

In 2006, Julie's adoptive mother brought her back to Sungai Buloh in search of her roots. My father cried when I presented him with the photo album. My stepmother was crying happy tears and I was crying from the overwhelming happiness that came from not only finding my father but with the feeling of love that surrounded us. My father offered us some beer. I kept the empty bottles as a memento of the beautiful time we had together.

When Lily brought me to meet my biological mother, she spoke to me through an interpreter and asked me not to be angry at her. I was quite emotional and told my mother that I understood their circumstances at that time. My heart was full of joy and gratitude that I could reunite with my mother after almost a half-century of being apart.

Julie and her children had a reunion meal together with her biological father and stepmother. Back in Australia, I kept wishing for my children to meet their maternal grandparents. In December 2007, I returned to Malaysia with my two children. It was a beautiful moment when my father and mother met their grandson and granddaughter. The children and I then flew to Penang where we embarked on our journey to discover my place of birth, Pulau Jerejak. We hired a guide and trekked across the hill to the ruins. To know that I was standing where my father and mother had once lived, earned a living, and lived a happy life together was unforgettable.

In 2008, my biological mother passed away. I could not make it back in time for her funeral, but I am deeply grateful to her. I am glad that I managed to bring my children and adoptive mother back to meet her when she was still alive.

In 2009 I was presented with an amazing opportunity when I was contacted by this book's author, Ean Nee, who kindly offered to continue being a translator of letters between my father and me. This has allowed me to learn so much more about my father and I am forever grateful that he is so happy and willing to share his life with me.

Julie, her children and her biological parents at the West Section women's ward.Being the Generation of leprosy patients doesn't affect me or my children. So many of my friends have cried and expressed genuine joy for me, my children, my adoptive parents and my biological parents.I hope that more families will be reunited and perhaps stories similar to mine can help to inform former patients, families and adopted children of the amazing experiences and benefits of building familial ties. I am aware that not everyone will be open to following this path as the stigma of leprosy will still be an issue for some people. However, we should never give up. People fear the unknown and we can assist by publishing our stories. I hope they will be as lucky as me.

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