by Eric Loh
29 Nov 2016
Hope means different things to different people. For leprosy patients who were ill, abandoned by their family, and left to see the end of their life in one place, hope is no more than just a simple reunion meal with their long-lost family members.
“A Valley of Hope” is about the life of leprosy patients set in the largest leprosy settlement in Malaysia, the Sungai Buloh Settlement. Presented by The Dramatic Art Society, this play revolves around 7 stories of leprosy patients and the families of these patients, and their hope for reunions.
The set was relatively simple. With just a few chairs, some different clothes for various characters, sunflowers to represent hope, together with live guitar and percussion to accompany the acting, the actors and actresses gave life to the unheard, unseen and ignored.
They began with a story-telling session amongst the old patients, portrayed by Tammi Tam, Fai Chen, Ng Chooi Hong and Kent Tan, each reminiscing to how they were admitted into the settlement in hope for a cure. They were supported by Vynix Lim, Andy Poon, and a very young actress, Lee Yin Shyen. They gave the story a boost, by portraying as long-lost family members, a young chap seeking for his parents in the settlement but he was a little too late, and a child growing up without being shown affection by the leprosy patient.
All of these stories were moving and it was a tear-jerking performance. One story especially captured my heart. Actor Tammi Tam portrayed as a patient whose face were disfigured due to the disease. She reminisced about being admitted to the settlement for a cure when she was very young, her date in her 30s, how she got married and in the end giving birth to a baby girl but it was then forcefully taken away for adoption in fear that the baby will contract the feared disease.
Director Woon Fook Sen has made it very easy for the audience to understand the stories. All of the stories were interweaved together, one story after another, going back and forth in time, barely leaving much room to breathe. The impact, however, was powerful and memorable.
Even though the set was really simple, their dynamic acting was drawing the audiences into their life as though we were watching their story re-enact in their mind. Like how a grandparent will tell stories to kids, I felt them flipping through old photographs and sharing their emotions without holding back; just to make us understand how they felt, and understand that leprosy patients are humans too, with feelings, emotions, and hope.
These portrayals of real events had shed light to what this disease used to be – fear, discrimination, abandonment, clinical trials, and separation. Yet, these patients were still hopeful to reunite with their family members, especially the children that had parted with them. In fact, these patients are real heroes. If it wasn’t for them going through the clinical trials, leprosy might continue to be a stigmatized disease.
This play was aimed to raise fund for the Sungai Buloh Settlement to preserve these story, eliminate bias and discrimination towards leprosy patients and also to help those adopted children to trace their biological parents.
To donate and for more information, please visit: http://www.mystartr.com/projects/valleyofhopestorymuseum