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Leprosy

SUNGAI BULOH: With Chinese New Year around the corner, the nurseries at Sungai Buloh have once again become a favourite site. They have been around for decades and many of these nurseries have been fighting to preserve a heritage spawned by the leprosy hospital and its settlement many of the nurseries were started by former patients. Built in 1930, the Sungai Buloh Leprosy Settlement was the second largest settlement in the world. It became a research centre where the British government provided refuge and medical help to lepers. For 10 years since 1959, an open day for Sungai Buloh nurseries was organised to educate the public that leprosy can be cured and does not spread easily. “The open days were so that society would learn to accept us,” explained leprosy patient, Lee Chor Seng. Even though he was struck at the age of eight, Lee has never succumbed to the disease. Blooming beauty: Beautiful plants adorning the entrance of L&L Nursery and Landscaping in Sungai Buloh. “When the symptoms appeared, the doctors couldn’t explain what was happening,” said Lee. “It wasn’t until a family friend told us about leprosy that I was sent to hospital to receive treatment.” At the age of 20, Lee was transferred to the Sungai Buloh Hospital for free treatment as the government was trying to eradicate the disease. After being discharged, Lee found it hard to get a job due to his disfigured hands and limbs and the public’s misconception. Lee only warmed up to the idea of operating a nursery after a job as a clerk fell through. “I didn’t have enough money to start a big nursery so I started one plant at a time,” commented the 74-year-old on the hardships he faced. “The moral support I received was heartening. No one ever told me I couldn’t do it so I just kept on planting!” added Lee, owner of L&L Nursery and Landscaping for over 20 years. Lee was not the only leprosy patient who supported himself through the plant nursery business. “We started off with 2,500 villagers. Some decided to leave for greener pastures while most stayed behind to open nurseries. Now, there are only around 219 leprosy patients left, aged between 65 and 90,” Lee added. However, the legacy of selling plants and flowers continues in Sungai Buloh. Many people have since opened more nurseries including Seow Chee, a relative of Lee. “My uncle loves flowers. When the flowers bloom beautifully, he enjoys the fruits of his labour,” said the Seow Chee Nursery operator. Lee believes that the Sungai Buloh Leprosy Settlement is a heritage that should be preserved for the betterment of the present and future generations. “I hope our Government will continue to reserve this area for us, the elderly patients who have been living here for decades,” he said.

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