Malaysia has always been proud of our national athletes, same like any other country, really. However, what happens to our national athletes who stop being our national athletes?
Although we hope most of them are well off after their dedication to the country, it seems that may not be the case. Recently, Twitter user Fayadh Wahab (@fxwxb) met an ex-para-athlete who is now selling tissue paper packets for a living. Fayadh was moved to bring attention to the matter via Twitter.
Fayadh first saw the athlete in her wheelchair at Bukit Bintang on 14th January. She caught his attention as she was wearing the Harimau Malaya polo shirt. Additionally, she was holding up a torn laminated newspaper which read, “Former Swimming Athlete Ridiculed“.
Fayadh’s heart broke when she introduced herself to the night crowd as Koh Lee Peng, former Malaysian para-athlete. “I’m from Penang,” she added. When Lee Peng noticed Fayadh’s partner trying to discreetly look her up on the internet, she encouraged it. “You can search me (up) on YouTube,” she told them. “Now, this is my job. I’m not ashamed.”
Lee Peng had not only been nominated Female Paralympian of the Year in 2016, she also brought home 7 gold medals and three silvers at the ASEAN Para Games in 2001 till 2005. However, she later started selling tissue papers as a way of supporting herself. Lee Peng made headlines in 2019 when she shared that she had been ridiculed for selling tissues on the street. Many thought she was being used to collect money while others assumed she was a foreigner from Vietnam, Thailand or the Philippines.
The Twitter netizen asked for change, beyond only helping Lee Peng. “Koh Lee Peng’s issue is a symptom of several problems, which are underemployment and mismatch unemployment,” he stated. “Giving Ms. Koh employment is merely removing one symptom.” Many others have offered to help Lee Peng first, but Fayadh remains adamant that there need to be a structural change to prevent such matters from happening again.
Malaysia has proved to be resilient when it comes to helping each other out. Perhaps it’s time to capitalize on that unity and push for change, not only for ourselves but for others as well.