Apr 2017 - Valley of Hope Leprosy Colony

In April the Explorers‘ visited the Valley of Hope Leprosy Colony in Sungai Buloh. A group of 13 inquisitive Explorers were met by Dr Ghanaguru. Dr Ghana led us around, giving us a fascinating insight into the Valley of Hope, its history and the current state of affairs.


The Valley of Hope was set up before 1930 as a place where leprosy patients would be quarantined as it was a contagious disease. Leprosy is a long-lasting infection caused by bacteria, which can have an incubation period of many years. It causes severe skin sores and nerve damage in the arms and legs. The disease is also known as Hansen's Disease, named after G.A. Hansen, who is credited with the 1873 discovery of M leprae.

We started our tour in one of the four male patient wards. There are currently 57 male patients left who live at the hospital full-time.  They are able to come and go as they please, but hospital staff should be informed when they leave the facilities. Many of the patients are elderly and have been there for many years, some from their teenage years. Even though they are free to leave, the hospital is a comfortable place for them to remain as there they are not seen as outcasts, which is how they may feel outside of the Valley. We also visited the women's wards; there are now less than 40 female patients living in the hospital. 


The hospital is in the process of making a museum, but this wasn't ready to be visited yet. Instead, we visited two of the galleries which had exhibitions on show with, for example, prostheses, sample furniture provided, items used by the patients, medals and shields which were won at the Settlement school sports day, and many photographs. 


We also learned of the heartbreaking practice of babies taken away from parents with leprosy, as a preventative measure. The babies, even though they were healthy, were taken away immediately at birth and cared for by nurses at the Baby Home. The parents would be allowed to visit their baby once a month but were not allowed to touch their child. The parents had a few months to look for relatives to take in their baby, or it would be put up for adoption. 

Outside the wards there were several Chaulmoogra trees. During the early years of the Settlement, there were many of these scattered around. Before the discovery of Dapsone, which was used to cure leprosy patients, oil from the seeds of the Chaulmoogra tree was used. In both Indian medicine and Chinese traditional medicine in the early eighteenth and nineteenth century this oil was used to treat leprosy as it was thought to possess antibacterial properties. Consumption of the raw oils lead to long bouts of nausea so injections were the preferred method. 

In all, our visit to the former leprosy colony was incredibly interesting and a unique part of Malaysian history. Once all the patients have passed away, the Settlement will cease to exist as there will no longer be a need. There is a lot of information available online to learn more, eg: www.thewayhome.my,  www.travelfish.org "A day trip to the Valley of Hope (the former Sungai Buloh Leprosy Settlement)", www.themalaymailonline.com "A museum to showcase the stories of Sungai Buloh's leprosy survivors", or connect with them on Facebook: "Valley of Hope Heritage Tours". 


Submitted by Helen Backx-Palsgraaf


Photos by Helen Backx-Palsgraaf and Jeannie Kennedy