How It All Started
The Formation of MaLRA
TAN SRI MOHAMMED TAHIR T.H. TAN was a national leader and one of the architects of the Nation's independence. Prior to Malaysia’s independence, he had an illustrious career in journalism, before transitioning to politics culminating in his appointment as Honorary Secretary-General of the Alliance Party as well as Senator of the Dewan Negara (Malaysia’s Upper House of Parliament).
During a visit to the Sungai Buloh Leprosarium in 1959, he was deeply moved by the deprived living conditions of the leprosy patients and decided that something had to be done to help these less fortunate souls. Through his friendship with the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tan Sri Tahir Tan was able to secure the initial funding needed to set up MaLRA. In collaboration with Dr. Peter Mayo, the then President of the Apex Club, as well as participation from other like-minded personalities, Tan Sri Tahir Tan ultimately formed MaLRA in 1959.
Aims of MaLRA
MaLRA plays a number of important key roles within the community to ensure that the welfare of leprosy patients (both active and recovering) as well as their families are taken care of. These include a range of financial and non-financial support measures:
Providing monthly relief allowances to leprosy patients who are presently undergoing treatment
Providing rehabilitation support for leprosy patients
Assist patients financially to purchase wheelchairs, artificial limbs, essential medical operations, etc.
Gradually coax leprosy patients (and their families) back into mainstream society
MaLRA's Rehabilitation Projects for Leprosy Patients Since 1960s
Through six decades of operations, MaLRA has successfully undertaken a range of different initiatives aimed at assisting leprosy patient and ex-patient community:
Provided substantial financial relief and cash aid on monthly basis to thousands of patients and families.
The founding of rubber and palm oil estates, as well as chicken & goat farms and metal and furniture workshops which subsequently employed large numbers of former leprosy patients and helped provide them and their families with sustainable income streams.
These initiatives were aimed at ensuring leprosy patients not only could earn sustainable incomes to support themselves and their families, but to also do so with dignity.
Prior to MaLRA’s existence, patients in the 1960s and 1970s were isolated from society due to the risk of infection as well the disfigurement experienced by patients which made their participation in society extremely challenging.
A significant aspect of MaLRA’s mandate was to assist patients and their family regain their confidence by providing them with opportunities and the necessary skills to reintegrate with society.
The Leprosy Settlement - 1871
Pulau Jerejak is a small island which lies off the south-eastern coast of Penang. Its ancient history includes being a fishing settlement long before the British Settlement of Penang was established in 1786.
Almost a hundred years later, the British began using Pulau Jerejak as a segregated settlement for lepers in 1871, to avoid widespread infections on both Penang Island and the mainland.
The choice of Pulau Jerejak as a settlement for leprosy patients arose as a combination of its strategic location which made providing supplies and access to care personnel easier.
The original buildings on Pulau Jerejak became known as Camp A and B (later renamed Camp 1 and 2). Subsequently additional "Camps" 3, 4 and 5 were constructed in other parts of the island as the population of patients grew as other leprosy outbreaks took place. Quarters for the medical, administrative and other ancillary staff were also constructed as the on-site support requirements expanded.
Other wards were added over the years, some of which were constructed by the Kedah State Government for the use of patients from that state. Interestingly, Pulau Jerejak also ended up becoming the home of leprosy patients from Singapore and the other Straight Settlement territories, which added to the diversity of cultures and backgrounds of residents within the community.