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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy


Extract from a letter written by Mak Liew Set to his daughter Julie in Australia. It describes life on Pulau Jerejak, an island off Penang that was the site of a leprosarium until the 1960s.

"You may not know this, but your mum and I were happy during our days of being segregated at Pulau Jerejak. We had a plot of farm land. We also planted papayas. Those papayas were small and very, very sweet. We also built a small house near the sea so that we could fish. The island may not have had much in terms of entertainment, but we managed to entertain ourselves pretty well!

"We used to get together to gamble. I was usually the 'banker' (leader). We played a game called 'Fish, Prawn, Flower, Oyster'. Every afternoon, when everyone had returned from their fishing trips, we would gather under a tree. There were more than 10 of us leprosy patients gambling together with people who were not from the island. We gambled from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"At night, we set out in our fishing boats to catch prawns. Whether or not we could go out to sea depended on the tide. We usually caught fish in the day time. We could catch 3 to 40 catties of fish per day. One catty of fish could be sold for more than RM6; one catty of prawn for RM2. Those were very low prices indeed! As a result, we earned very little money even though we had fished a few hundred catties of seafood.

"...I liked living on Pulau Jerejak because we had a lot of freedom. Besides gambling, drinking, and fishing, sometimes your mum and I also went across to Penang island to watch a movie. The Penang cinemas (such as Odeon, Rex, and Cathay) were some of our favorite places. Besides watching movies, we also drank brandy and ate good food. In those days, it only cost us RM10-15.

"Till this day, I can still remember the great movies that we watched, such as The One-Armed Swordsman, Come Drink With Me, Golden Swallow, and The Ten Commandments. one particular scene from The Ten Commandments - the parting of the Red Sea. That was an amazing scene. I heard that the tsunami swallowed an entire Indonesian island. Then, the crack in the earth joined together again. That sounds exactly like what happened in The Ten Commandments."