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A shining beacon no more: Former Paralympic athlete spotted selling tissue covers in Bukit Bintang

Once a national hero, now a faded memory.

KUALA LUMPUR – While Malaysians continue to express outrage over national athletes being “rewarded” with drastic allowance cuts, another former athlete, Koh Lee Peng is now bearing the brunt of being cast aside despite bringing glory to the nation.

Koh lee peng national athlete
Screengrab via Bernama

‘You can search me on YouTube’

In an emotional Twitter post by Fayadh Wahab, he shared his encounter with ex-Paralympian Koh Lee Peng along the streets of Bukit Bintang.

Fayadh said he first saw her in a wheelchair and clad in the recognisable ‘Harimau Malaya’ jersey worn by all national athletes while holding a tattered laminated news clipping with the headline “Former OKU Swimmer Ridiculed” (Bekas Atlet Renang OKU Dicemuh).

Koh lee peng tissue cover
Photo via Twitter/@fxwxb


“She then introduced herself by saying, ‘Hi, I’m Koh Lee Peng from Penang and I’m a former Paralympian.

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Koh lee peng national athlete 02
Koh Lee Peng. Screengrab via Bernama

My SO (significant other) was as there with me and she tried to look her up on her phone subtly. However, Lee Peng noticed it and said ‘You can search me on YouTube. Now [selling tissue covers] is my job and I’m not ashamed of it.”

Upon hearing her reply, Fayadh could hardly hold back the tears and felt guilty for doubting her identity.

We felt bad because it’s projecting that we didn’t trust her from the beginning. Man, I almost broke in tears- I couldn’t make up what was in my head at that time. It’s just, sadness.

Speaking to WeirdKaya, Fayadh said that it deeply saddened him to see her with a professional skillset being forced to work at a field that did not suit her education and experience.

How the mighty have fallen

Koh was once named the Female Paralympian of the Year in 2016 on the International Paralympic Committee website and brought home seven gold medals and three silver medals at the ASEAN Para Games from 2001-2005.

A shining beacon no more: former paralympic athlete spotted selling tissue covers in bukit bintang | weirdkaya
Koh Lee Peng. Screengrab via Bernama

She was also dubbed by The Star as a “shining beacon” to her peers at the Cerebral Palsy (Spastic) Children’s Association of Penang in 2005.

A simple Internet search revealed that Koh has been selling tissue paper around Bandar Perda in Bukit Mertajam, Penang since 2019.

New Straits Times also reported that she faced multiple accusations of being a tool of syndicates to fleece unsuspecting victims while others thought she was a foreigner and demanded her to produce her IC to prove her identity.

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Many people look down on what I do. They don’t know that I was a former para athlete.

She further revealed that she used to had a stable job but was forced to quit as she had difficulties using the staircase.

‘It’s a symptom of several problems’

In a follow-up tweet, Fayadh said that Koh’s plight was simply a sign of a deeper problem – underemployment and mismatched unemployment.

“Between the period of 2007 to 2017, the plausible causes of unemployment due to mismatch has increased by 2.5 times. This creates low match between someone’s education and skills against the job that they have.

“As of 2020, Malaysia is at #62 of the Human Capital Index (HCI) with a score of 0.61, and Singapore is at #1 with a score of 0.88,” he wrote.

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He also called upon the Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE), and Ministry of Human Resource to work together in addressing the issue.

Giving Ms. Koh a job that’s linked to her skill set is great, but if this blows off and nothing is done on mismatch unemployment and underemployment policies – we’re just sweeping one problem at a time under the rug.

Read the thread here:

Read also: I Quit My High Paying Job For My Badminton Dream. Today, I Am Going To The Paralympic Games – Cheah Liek Hou

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Cover Images via Twitter

Editor: Sarah Yeoh