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.


Just One Look - Lee Jin Ai's Story

Female resident in the West Section's decrepit ward resting in the afternoon. The inmate napping on the left is Lee Jin Ai.I first met Lee Jin Ai in the Sungai Buloh Settlement's West Section's "Decrepit Ward". That day, I was initially on my way to meet another patient when I walked past Jin Ai. She stopped me to ask for my help in searching for her daughter.

67-year-old Jin Ai came from Indonesia. After contracting leprosy, Jin Ai and her husband came to the Sungai Buloh Settlement in search of treatment. When she recovered, she did not leave the leprosarium immediately as she was an Indonesian without legal status in this country. So, she chose to live with her husband in the chalets for recovered patients within the leprosarium grounds.

Jin Ai and her first husband had two daughters. The elder daughter was sent to a Children's Home in Desa Jaya for the nuns to look after. Jin Ai was very happy when the girl grew up and came back to acknowledge her. The younger daughter was taken care of by nurses in the leprosarium's "Babies' Home" for four months until Jin Ai's ex-husband decided to give her up for adoption to an unmarried former inmate who had already left the leprosarium.

Infants in the settlement's Babies Home were given up for adoption. "We were not allowed to raise children here. Since my ex-husband and I did not have Malaysian identity cards, how could we have dared to leave the settlement to raise our children? We were forced to give them up!" When her ex-husband gave their daughter away to the former inmate, the man gave Jin Ai a twenty dollar ang pow (red packet with money) and a length of cloth to be made into clothes. Jin Ai refused to accept the gifts.

"I told my daughter's adoptive father, 'I am not selling my child. I am only doing this because I have no other way to raise her myself." Jin Ai also extracted a promise from him that he would bring her daughter back to see her when the daughter had grown up. The adoptive father agreed.

However, the years passed and the child grew up, but there was no sign of either the child or the adoptive father. Jin Ai's ex-husband was discharged and he returned to Indonesia, leaving her all alone in the Sungai Buloh Settlement. Jin Ai then married an inmate from Penang and gave birth to three sons. In the blink of an eye, all three sons have grown up. They frequently come back to visit her. However, during the nights, even after 40 years of separation from her second daughter, her mind will often wander back to the moment when she was separated from her flesh and blood.

"I hope that her adoptive father remembers the promise that he had made to me all those years ago and brings my daughter back to see me. I don't want her to acknowledge me, nor do I want her to take care of me. My other children come back to visit me and give me money. The government currently pays for my food and board. I don't lack anything. I just miss my daughter. I want to know if she's married, how many children she has, if her husband loves her, what her job is, what she looks like."

In 1980, Jin Ai could no longer bear her yearning to see her daughter. She requested her son to bring her to Teluk Anson, Perak, where her daughter's adoptive father was from, to ask about her daughter's whereabouts. However, when the adoptive father laid eyes on her, he hurriedly brought Jin Ai and her son to a nearby coffee shop and told them that his daughter was not home.

Twenty-nine years passed by and still, the adoptive father did not make an attempt to contact Jin Ai. On Labour Day, 2009, the desire to find her daughter flared up again. Once again, her son drove her up to Teluk Anson, only to be met by the news that the adoptive father had moved away. Undeterred, they asked around and finally managed to get his new telephone number but when the adoptive father answered the phone, he kept asking who was on the other end. Jin Ai felt angry and hurt.

"I said, 'This is Jin Ai! Can you come out?' But he just kept on repeating the same question, as if he did not know me. I was so angry that I could not continue talking and just slammed down the phone."

Jin Ai has waited for 40 years but has still not gotten a single glimps of her daughter.  Her eyes were filled with tears, her heart was filled with discontent.Jin Ai is indignant that her daughter's adoptive father did not keep his promise to let her see her daughter. She said that since he was an inmate here, he would definitely know that she lives in Ward 52 of the Sungai Buloh Settlement's West Section. It would have been easy for him to find her but he obviously refuses to let her take even one look at her daughter. (Photo 3: Jin Ai has waited for 40 years but has still not gotten a single glimps of her daughter. Her eyes were filled with tears, her heart was filled with discontent.)

"When I met my daughter's adoptive father 29 years ago, he told me he was still single. My daughter should have guessed that she couldn't possibly have been born to an unmarried man. My guess is that my daughter thinks I don't love her and that's why I gave her away. Who could possibly know how much a mother's heart bleeds when her child is given away for adoption? It's like cutting off the flesh from one's hand. Do you know how many sleepless nights I've had, thinking of this child whom I never got the chance to really see?"

Jin Ai said that she was 19 years old when she first contracted leprosy and came to the Sungai Buloh Settlement. She has been living here for 47 years. She is already 67 years old now and unsure of how long she has left to live. However, she continues to wait as she clings to the hope that she may "see my daughter one more time".

"Just one look, that's all I want. Then I'll have no regrets......"

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