Losing his sight leads a man to his true calling, writes Shuhada Elis
HE was smiling throughout the conversation as if he didn’t have a care in the world. But Koh Chai Swee, 50, has gone through a big challenge in his life, something not everyone can endure. At the tender age of 8, when he was eager to attend school and make friends, he suffered a major blow.
A high fever which lasted for two weeks changed his life — he lost his eyesight because of it.
“I was admitted to a hospital in Muar, Johor for the fever. One day when I came out from the toilet, I couldn’t see and kept walking up against the beds,” he says. But Koh didn’t realise there was something wrong until his father broke the news.
“He saw the incident and asked me how it happened. I told him and then we discovered the truth,” adds the soft-spoken Koh.
Koh needed to adjust to his new life, he had to skip school until he turned 13 when his father finally found him the right school. “I went to SK Princess Elizabeth School for the Blind in Johor Baru for three years. Then I stayed at the boarding school in SM Pendidikan Khas Setapak until Form Five,” he says.
That was when the sixth of the eight siblings learned to become independent despite his disability.
When Koh finished his studies, he found his true calling — as a teacher. Koh became the support teacher at SK Nong Chik in Johor Baru, teaching normal pupils arts, music and physical education.
“I started teaching in 1990 and was at the school for seven years. It was a life-changing experience,” he reminisces.
Koh says he has no problem teaching normal children and enjoyed his stint.
“I had never been teased or laughed at. Thankfully, my former students and colleagues were very supportive,” he adds.
In 1998, Koh decided that he wanted to teach more than just a few subjects. Therefore, for the next three years, he studied at Institut Bahasa Melayu Malaysia in Lembah Pantai. Koh then began teaching Bahasa Malaysia and Mathematics in various schools.
But the sweetest experience has been the last four years as Koh returned to his first school for the blind, SK Princess Elizabeth, this time as a teacher.
“I received a call from the school principal who asked me to come back; I couldn’t say no.”
Koh continues to discover the joys of teaching. He says he gets more satisfaction from teaching visually-impaired children. This is because he feels that he can relate to them better.
“There are several shortcomings when teaching normal children,” he adds. For instance, Koh says he had to ask for help from one of his students to jot down things on the blackboard while teaching at a normal school. The number of students in a class is also higher compared to the school for the blind.
“There are only seven students in a class at SK Princess Elizabeth. So, I can focus more on each individual,” says Koh.
It is also easier as the teacher and students use the same method and aids in teaching and learning.
Being a former long-distance runner, Koh now also coaches his students in sports. His regular working schedule extends up to 16 hours per day as he also teaches Mathematics and holds additional classes.
When asked about his secret for success, Koh credits his father, Koh Kak Bok.
He says: “When I turned blind, people used to ask my father about my future. And every time, he would tell them that I’d become a blind teacher. I wouldn’t be here without his support.”
Recognising the good
ALONG with three individuals, Koh recently received the F&N Out-Do Yourself Award for their contributions to the society.
The award aims to recognise various acts of selflessness, from bravery to civil consciousness and promoting nation-building.
Since 2008, 25 awards have been given out to deserving individuals based on media reports.
Koh received RM5,000, a certificate, a plaque and F&N products. “I’ll treat my students with the money. I’m here today because of them,” says Koh.
He advises: “Do your work wholeheartedly and never ever hope for anything in return.”