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.


A Graveside Reunion - Noraeni's Story

When I was seven or eight, a relative accidentally let it slip that I was adopted. My father only told me when I was 20 years old. He said that my biological father was a soldier in British Malaya, and he had died before I was born. I don't blame my adoptive parents for keeping this from me all these years for they probably didn't want me to know that I was adopted. In an effort to keep the truth about my birth a secret, they gave me a Malay name - Noraeni Mohammed.

Noraeni was adopted by a Malay family. Her father used to be a driver for the Sultan of Kelantan For more than a decade, I had been asking Allah to help me find my roots. I wanted to know if my biological parents were still alive. Allah granted me my wish. The day after my adoptive mother passed away, I found my adoption certificate among her things. A friend of mine helped to get a copy of my birth certificate from the National Registration Department (NRD). Only then did I realize that I am a Chinese, and my name was Cheong Yee Moi. (Photo 2: )

Noraeni's birthcertificate shows that she is a Chinese, and that her name was originally Cheong Yee Moi.In 2006, for the first time, I placed an advertisement in the newspapers seeking my biological parents. I found nothing. A descendant of a Sungai Buloh leprosy patient contacted me, saying that her adoptive father had been a patient at Sungai Buloh and asked me to search for my biological parents there. However, at that time, I had to look after my husband who was suffering from cancer, so I decided to stop the search.

The thought of searching for my roots came up again in 2009 after my husband passed away. My daughter asked a reporter friend from the Oriental Daily to help publish an article about my search for my biological parents. My son-in-law also contacted Michael Chong from the Malaysian Chinese Association Public Services and Complaints Department who held a press conference to enlist the help of the media in searching for my biological parents.

Noraeni placed a notice in the newspaper seeking her biological parents.I never thought that one day, I'd receive a phone call from Tan Ean Nee,the author of the book "The Way Home". Ean Nee said that she'd found my mother's grave and asked me to go to Sungai Buloh where I could also search for information on my biological father in the settlement's Records Department.On Monday morning, 13 December 2009, my two sons and I took a train from Seremban to Sungai Buloh for the very first time. Ean Nee and her friend picked us up from the station at noon.

I was surprised by the warmth, friendliness and kindness of the people at the settlement. They were happy to see me and very attentive to my needs. They even tried their best to help me find the information I needed from the old records. I also found out that a few days before my arrival, they had cleared the cemetery which was covered with overgrown grass, so as to make it easier for me to view my mother's grave. I was deeply touched by their help.

Noraeni searches for old records at the settlement's Record DepartmentI will never forget the beautiful memories of the first time I saw my biological mother's grave. Even though she was already six feet under, I still felt extremely lucky to be able to see a picture of her on her headstone, to see what she looked like. Sadness and joy warred in me. I cannot imagine the grief that my mother must have felt when she was forced to give me up for adoption after carrying me for nine months in her womb. I immediately said a prayer for her. I prayed that her heart and soul would be at peace.

I sincerely thank Allah for fulfilling my wish of finding my biological mother. I really hope that the relevant authorities will help the other Generation of leprosy patients search for their roots and let the second generation reunite with their parents. The leprosy patients were an unfortunate lot, and they were discriminated against. Their rights should be protected. They, too, have feelings. They, too, need love and attention. It was the cruellest thing in the world to separate the leprosy patients from their children. This policy of forced separation has destroyed many families, and violated the basic human need for a family.

What I really want to do now is todig my mother up from her grave, hold her tightly and kiss her. I heard that some of the resident had lost six children, others had lost three. These children had all been given up for adoption. Even if they want to find their children now, they can't do anything and they don't know where to find them.

Noraeni and her sons in front of her biological mother's  grave.I I want to tell the entire world that there are many resident in Sungai Buloh who are waiting for their children's return. Even if they are unable to live together, they just want to see their children's faces. We need help from all quarters to fulfil the dreams of these people.

While looking through the records in the Sungai Buloh Records Department, I discovered that I actually have a sister - Cheong YerMoi - who is two years older than me. My father's date of death is also not recorded which means that I will continue searching for my biological father and sister. I hope that some kind people can help me in this.

The surviving resident still cling to one hope only, and that is of being reunited with their children. As for those who lay cold in the ground, they have brought a thousand regrets under with them. I hope the government can help reunite the resident with their families. I also hope that the children of leprosy patients will not be prejudiced against their parents. Were it not for our parents, we would not be able to see daylight and darkness, and experience this world of ours. We must never become a person who forgets his roots.

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