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.


It Won't Hurt If I Don't Think of Them - Lim Mei Jing's Story

When Mei Jing was young, she enjoyed listening to the sound of waves and singing to the sea. She dressed fashionably, displaying her youth and vitality. In 1955, Lim Mei Jing's right toe developed festering sores as a result of leprosy. Acting on the instructions of her doctor, Mei Jing's father brought her to Penang's Pulau Jerejak Settlement to undergo an operation. At that time, Mei Jing was only seven years old; she was the youngest patient there. When Mei Jing's father brought her to the leprosarium, he told her not to cry and that he would visit her often. Even though Mei Jing's father visited her once a week, she still cried whenever she saw a boat in the distance because she thought that her father was coming to visit her, but each time, she was disappointed.

Mei Jing met her husband at Pulau Jerejak; he was also an inmate there and they had five children together. Unlike Sungai Buloh, the Pulau Jerejak Settlement did not have a "Babies' Home" to provide temporary infant care. Newborn babies were carried away by the nurses and sent to the Maternity Hospital in Penang, and unless the resident gave special instructions, the babies would be given to relatives or friends. If nobody came for the child after a few months, the baby would be sent to the Social Welfare Department.

Picture of Pulau Jerejak resident under a grove of coconut trees in 1923.  SOURCE-CULION MUSEUM , PHILIPPINES.Mei Jing remembers that her first daughter weighed 8 pounds and was named Ong Bee Leng . She was born on 13 March, 1963. That year, Mei Jing was only 16 years old. The nurse told her that she had given birth to a daughter, allowed her a couple of peeks, and then swept off to the Social Welfare Department.

Before Mei Jing gave birth, a Catholic nun had come to her and asked if her child was to be given up for adoption, or if relatives and friends would take the baby. Mei Jing came from a poor family. She did not wish to add to their burden by giving them the baby, so she did not inform them of the baby's birth. The nun asked Mei Jing to give the baby to the church. They would return the baby when she grew up. Mei Jing was overjoyed when she heard this and happily agreed. Unfortunately, the nurses at the Maternity Hospital did not allow the nun to adopt the baby. According to the nurse, as there was no official letter from the baby's parents stating of their intention to let the church raise the baby, the nun was not allowed to take the baby away.

"They took away our children just like that, without letting us sign any letter consenting for the children to be sent to the Social Welfare Department. They also did not give the parents any documents so that they could eventually find their children. We are illiterate people. How were we to know such things? They said we were not allowed to raise children and we obeyed."

Mei Jing was 19 when she had her second daughter. She still remembers the baby's weight, "nine pounds plus, but I've forgotten her name." A year later, she had her third child-a boy. Mei Jing had five children altogether. The first three (two daughters and a son) were adopted by strangers; the fourth (a boy) was raised by her mother-in-law, while the fifth child (also a boy) died of an illness. Mei Jing's husband gambled and womanized, and did not give her much money for household expenses.

"I delivered my baby in a small, empty room with only one doctor and one nurse in attendance. I stayed at the hospital for two or three days after delivery before I was allowed to go home. The nurse did not let me hold my baby. I did not hold any of my children. They only showed me the baby from a distance away, and then they immediately left in the boat with the baby in their arms."

Mei Jing has been working into late night, sewing quilts out of colorful squares of cloth to be sold at charity bazaars.In 1969, the government converted Pulau Jerejak into a rehabilitation centre for political prisoners and gangsters. On 9 October of tat same year, the Pulau Jerejak Settlement was closed down. That day, Mei Jing and her husband took a train specially designated for the 317 Pulau Jerejak resident, and moved to the Sungai Buloh Settlement.

Mei Jing divorced her husband in 1976 and her son followed her husband. The son got married and had three children, but never contacted Mei Jing again. Presently, Mei Jing and her nephew live co-dependently at the Sungai Buloh Settlement where Mei Jing does some gardening.

In the 1990s, a good friend of Mei Jing helped her to locate the whereabouts of her three children. Based on the children's names, the friend discovered that the Social Welfare Department still kept the children's birth certificates, so she secretly photocopied the documents and passed them to Mei Jing. Mei Jing's friend also went to the National Registration Department to search for the children's addresses. However, officers at the Department said that they did not have any record of these children.

This notice reveals a mother's eager desire to reunite with her lost children. "I worry that they have removed their original birth certificates and changed their names, then used the new birth certificates to apply for identity cards. They could also have been adopted by Malays or foreigners, or maybe nobody adopted them at all, and when they grew up, the government asked them to become soldiers, which is why there is no record of them."

In 1995, to help reunite Mei Jing with her lost children, Mei Jing's friend spent over four hundred ringgit to advertise for her missing children. Sadly, there was no response to the advertisement.

Mei Jing sings karaoke to release her emotions whenever the mood strikes her."I miss my children, but what can I do? Sometimes I wonder how they're doing. What's their life like? Does anyone love them? Are they still alive? I just wonder. I'm happy if they're doing well, for at least I don't have to worry. I'd be sad if they're having problems." These words reveal Mei Jing's deepest sorrow and earnest longing.

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