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.


Find One for Me - Tan Cheng Hoe'sStory

Tan Cheng Hoe is 84 years old and comes from Singapore. When he was 21 years old, he discovered ulcers on the soles of his feet. A doctor at Tan Tock Seng Hospital diagnosed him with leprosy and sent him off to the leprosarium with a medical report in hand.

The author chatting with Tan Cheng Hoe and his neighbor."When I first arrived at the leprosarium, I was frightened by what I saw. The old patients had such fierce faces. Their long earlobes were covered with tumours, their bodies were inflamed and swollen, and their limbs were gnarled and putrid. The first two months I was there, I did not touch the food given to me. I was afraid they might pass germs to me!"

One day, a patient came running up to Cheng Hoe and told him that the police might be coming that very night to bring them to Pulau Jerejak in Penang. That patient invited Cheng Hoe to run away with him. However, Cheng Hoe felt that since there was nothing in Singapore to cure him, and he was just waiting to die anyway, he might as well go to the Malayan leprosarium. Perhaps there would be a cure for him there.

"That friend of mine warned me that things would be worse in Pulau Jerejak. I told him it's okay, I'll take my chances." That night, Cheng Hoe and some 30-oddSingaporean leprosy patients were directed to move to Pulau Jerejak. At that time, the police did not even give them a chance to return home to say goodbye to their families.

View of Pulau Jerejak in 1923.  Source-CULION MUSEUM, PHILIPPINES.The first thing Cheng Hoe did upon arriving at Pulau Jerejak was to write a letter to his beloved younger brother, asking him to inform their illiterate sister and others that he had been sent to Pulau Jerejak.Cheng Hoe's eldest sister visited him once, and both of them were so overwhelmed with emotion that they cried in each other's arms.

Every morning, the authorities would distribute fresh vegetables and meat to the resident. Cooked meals were provided to those who were still sick and unable to do things for themselves. The patients made a living from rearing pigs and fowl, growing flowers, and fishing.

Twice a week, the patients were injected with 3 cc. of hydnocarpus oil. However, for most of them, there were no signs of improvement even after six months of injections. Later, they were given three Dapsonetabletseach week. After two years of taking the tablets, Cheng Hoe fully recovered.

Tan Cheng Hoe's wedding at the Christian church on Pulau Jerejak in 1953. In 1953, the 26-year-old Cheng Hoe married 23-year-old Ho Ah Soh.They had seven children, all of whom were born in Pulau Jerejak. Sadly, their third child died when he was only three months old.

"We didn't have a 'Babies Home' in Pulau Jerejak. All newborn children were required to be sent offthe island into the care of relatives or the State Welfare Department which would help to find suitablefosterhomes for them."

At that time, all babies born in Pulau Jerejak were immediately whisked off to the maternity hospital (commonly known as the labour hospital) in Penang. After six months there, they would be sent to the Social Welfare Department to await adoption. Cheng Hoe's brothers and sisters in Singapore had families of their own. He did not want to add to their burden. And since he and his wife were unable to look after their children, one by one, the children were given away. To this day, he still keeps a yellowing piece of paper on which were written the names of his seven children and the date and time of their births. The names of some of the adoptive parents were also written there.

A 1969 newspaper article reports that 315 leprosy patients moved from Pulau Jerejak to Sungai Buloh. "Of all my children, only one daughter, my sixth child came back to acknowledge me. The whereabouts of the others are unknown. If you can help me locate any of them, I'll give you 500 ringgit, okay?"

In 1969, 317 leprosy patients from Pulau Jerejak were relocated to the Sungai Buloh Settlement when Pulau Jerejak was converted into a penal colony for hardcore criminals. After moving to Sungai Buloh, Cheng Hoe and his wife started growing flowers. At the same time, they worked as hospital attendants at the "Decrepit Wards", delivering food and drinks to the other resident. Ever since Cheng Hoe's wife passed away in 2002, he has been living by himself in a chaletin the Central Section of the settlement.

This small piece of paper records a father's greatest hopes and wishes. "I'm old already. I don't know when I'll get a chance to see my lost children. I used to run a business selling flowers and fertilizer. I just want to know how they're doing and if there's anything I can do to help them. "

A nurse carrying Tan Cheng Hoe's infant daughter. In the blink of an eye, a half-century has passed. Cheng Hoe now lives for one reason only - the hope that one day he might see the five children who had been given away. Whenever he sees at the two old photos of his eldest daughter Rosalin, his eyes light up with joy.

"If my eldest daughter is still alive, she should be 58 years old now! If you find my children, please tell them I live at number 297, Central Section, Sungai Buloh Settlement."

Cheng Hoe is not sure where his children are, or if he will ever get a chance to see them. The only thing he can be certain of is that he will complete his life's journey in the Sungai Buloh Settlement. And accompanying him to the end are those who once were strangers, but came together bound by the same fate.

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