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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

SPEECH: Why This Museum Matters

Culion resident underlines why preserving the past is a source of strength for the future.

Maxencia Gonzales stands before a rotating examination table, displayed at the Culion Museum & Archives, that she was examined on as a child.

On July 26 a ceremony was held on the island of Culion in the Philippines to unveil a historical marker commemorating the island’s past history as a leprosy colony (see page 8). As part of the day’s events, the Culion Museum & Archives was formally reopened.

The museum now has on hand a number of volunteer story-tellers from among residents of the island who are happy to talk about Culion’s history and share their experiences.

Long-time Culion resident Maxencia Gonzales wrote a speech to mark the occasion, which she delivered on the museum steps against a backdrop of flags bearing the words, “We overcome.” This is a summary of her remarks, which were appreciated by several generations of Culion’s population.

If one bright picture could clearly define the kaleidoscope of our lives as persons affected by leprosy, it is the Culion Museum & Archives.

The Culion Museum & Archives exists because of the unstoppable dream of brilliant, dedicated and committed people, led by Dr. Arturo C. Cunanan, Jr. and with generous funding by the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation, to preserve the evidence of our history so that present and future generations can see, understand and internalize the great importance of the life and memories of every patient on Culion.

The museum is one of a kind. It depicts the extraordinary lives of Culion people since 1906. Over 100 years of the history of Culion can be found in the memorabilia carefully stored and preserved here. The exhibits speak of the truths, sufferings, struggles, tears and victories of the patients. They also convey the love, concern, and service of the health workers — people such as Dr. H.W. Wade, Dr. Casimiro B. Lara and Dr. Paul A. Evangelista — many of whom preferred to stay on this beloved island until their deaths.

Maxencia makes her speech.

Old records — papers that once seemed insignificant and not worth keeping — are now the precious proof of our history. Who can say that Culion’s history is just word-of-mouth anecdotes? Who can say that injustice, discrimination and segregation did not happen and were not experienced by people affected by leprosy? The Culion Museum & Archives has the evidence that this was the reality.

The museum is Culion’s identity and pride. It vividly illustrates Culion’s dramatic transformation from a place of fear to a promising community of man. It reflects our life’s journey, a journey toward victory.

Papers that once seemed insignificant are now the precious proof of our history.

That is how each life in the present generation should be embraced — with recognition of the past, wrapped in the sad history of leprosy, and with a determination to move forward with our identity and humanity regained. Our trials, sufferings and struggles may be the most painful ingredients of our lives, but they are just parts of the road leading to a fulfilled life. We overcome.

Culion has survived the misery brought by leprosy. The lessons of the past give us strength for the future. In every sacrifice made by the patients we find worth and dignity in today’s and future generations. The Culion Museum & Archives will continue to be the flag-bearer of Culion’s success — our story, our heritage, our struggle. We overcome!