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Sleep well, Koulabear March 8, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Human Rights, Malaysia, Note2Self, RIP.


Koula Koumis, (1977-2007)
Family member of Suaram
Human rights activist extraordinaire
Dearest Friend

(This post shall remain at the top until 12 March, 2007)


(Dated: 6 March, 2007) It has been a very hard 48 hours for our office.

Exactly 48 hours ago, at 1.42 am, I received a call from Shan, our Secretariat member

“This better be good.”

It took Shan some 5 minutes to tell me that Koula had passed away in a road accident. My mind rejected the news for some reason, racing from the thought of a by-election, Samy Vellu, to calling Teresa Kok. It was only when Shan said, ‘our Koula‘, that it finally sanked in.

It has since been a haze of phone calls, SMSs and emails. We had 3 people from the Secretariat abroad at that time, and it wasn’t easy to break the news to so faraway. Toni called back and kept saying, “I can’t believe it…can’t believe it.”

Koula is the second person in our ‘family’ who’s left us in these past six month, after Tan.

Her siblings flew in from London on Sunday. From there, we went to see Koula’s partner, Roland, who was recuperating from the accident. To say they were distraught was an understatement. We then headed to the University Hospital Mortuary, where the caretaker was kind enough to let us see Koula. Some of the Suaram folks and friends had gathered, including our former staffers, Nurul and Gowri. Brinda came later.

Monday was spent trying to contact the family to get their final approval for a short service outside the mortuary in the evening. The verbal consent came at 5 pm for the 7.30 pm service. Ivy took charge of the flowers, candles and guestbook while Seng Guan found an Orthodox priest to conduct the ceremony.

When we arrived at the site, I was stunned to find more than fifty people had already gathered. By the time the service was underway, there must had been more than a hundred present, of her friends, Roland’s friends and colleagues, refugees, human rights activists, students and other NGOs. Our former staffers, Zappa, Li Ling, Brinda and Nurul turned up too. Yap, the Executive Director of Suaram had just landed in Malaysia and got there in time.

Dr. Kua Kia Soong, former Member of Parliament and founder of Suaram, spoke of how Koula would return to London in springtime, where the flowers would be blooming and cherry blossoms carpet the grounds where she would finally lie in peace. He told us how Koula, who had only been in Malaysia for a year, had touched our lives, especially those of the refugees.

And of her goodness that still dazzles us.

This goodness, this purity that emanates from her is so lacking in most of us. She was only a volunteer but kept our rigorous work hours and days. She livened the entire office, lifted our spirits, made our work colourful with her smiles and loud jokes. And dazzle us she did, that now our days feel dark and dank.

It makes me wonder, if god takes those he favours early, what then can be said of those of us left behind?

I remember the first time we took her to a demonstration almost a year ago. It was one of the earlier protests against the fuel hike. I kept telling her to observe from afar; that if anyone of us were arrested that she should just act as if she didn’t know us; and that if she wanted, she could stay inside Suria KLCC. But she wanted to see us in action up close and and stuck by us, exclaiming excitedly, “There are so many people!”

Her work with refugees is nothing short of astounding. She’s always been kind and gentle with them. Once, I sat in the office when a group of Rohingya women arrived to meet her regarding their children being kicked out from school. After her meeting I’d asked her, “Why didn’t you tell them that there’s very little that we can do before they came in?”

She replied, “They just need someone to talk to.”

Za Uk, our Burmese intern who worked closest with her, had come dressed in his Sunday best to the service – a dark suit, dark tie and shirt. He hadn’t stopped crying since he heard the news. He went up to say a few words about Koula, and between heavy sobs, told us how he couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the office and not seeing her there. He called her – ‘Sister’ – which is a tremendous honour.

Yap, fresh from his flight back, struggled to find the words between deep breaths, as he clutched his left chest, trying to say something to the crowd. The lines on his face sank even deeper as he held back his tears. I’d known Yap for more than a decade now, and I’d not seen him in this state.

Nary a dry eye in that small space where we had congregated; our ‘macho’ attitude that has seen us through heated meetings with Inspector-generals of Police and face-offs with hundreds of well-armed Federal Reserve Units, had all but dissolved, standing in front of our Koula.

Politikus quoted a line from Star Wars, “We honour the dead by living”.

It was ironic that on Monday morning as the stock market executed another nosedive, Kampung Berembang was once again besieged by police, RELA and bulldozers. Koula had gone there previously to visit and as usual, spread her good cheer around, and made many new friends.

I am proud – no, a whole lot more than proud – that the Suaram machinery went straight to work. Trying to stop makeshift homes from being demolished. Trying to stop the police from arresting residents. Trying to save people from being beaten with batons. Trying to make the police and developer accountable to due process. The last thing she would want us to do is sit around and mope. I can almost hear her yelling in the office, “Guys!! Get your butts out there!”

For Koula, we honour her by fighting. To make Malaysia a better place, so that we may all live. And live with dignity.

I’m sorry I still owe you an outing for a fancy haircut and a homemade lemon cheesecake. But for now – sleep well, sweet dreams. Koulabear.


(Vocals: Toni Kasim; Guitars: Jerry Foo, Elizabeth Wong; Editor: Sam Hui. Recorded: Dec 2006, complete with warts and all)

Photo credit: (1) Yeoh Seng Guan (2) & (3) unknown

See also:
為甚麼好人總是走得早?(translation: Why do the good folks leave us early?)
One Last Goodbye
Smoothriver’s Audio Podcast: “Koula, You’re The Star!”

(This is still a WIP – Work In Progress)



1. giovamar - March 6, 2007

Hi Liz, maybe it is not the right moment to write, sorry I’ ve been a little time detached from WP and my blog too..
I’m sad for what happened to your colleague..
See you..

EW: Hi Mario! Lovely to hear from you again. Thanks for dropping by. Much appreciated.

2. youzi - March 6, 2007

looking at the way u describe her, my heart sank… one year being in m’sia, hundred attended her ceremony, she must be real nice young lady.

i’m speechless, feel like giving u a hug right now. *hug*

all the best to you too, eli.

EW: Thanks Youzi. Most people remember her good cheer even though some had met her only once. Much appreciated esp. the hug.

3. Eric Paulsen - March 6, 2007

When I received the news I could barely believe it. How could she be dead? She was so full of life – so full of zest, wit and charm that one couldn’t help but be caught up by her almost invariably cheerful mood. This was so sudden, sad and tragic.

The last I spoke to her was more than a month ago when she asked if I ll miss Suaram when I leave for Nepal – and if all of us are gonna meet before I go. I rather moodily just shrugged and moved on to another topic – as after all what’s the big deal of going off for another 6 months and further the Suaram gang is always busy in and out of the country that trying to do a get-together is always more trouble that its worth. So the cynic in me just went on my merry way -change the topic – spoke about other more interesting things – Shilpa Shetty, Jade Goody, porno (I can’t remember the context), the proper usage of the word ‘slapper,’ ‘slag’ etc. I think, to my great amusement, she tried to explain ‘slapper’ and ‘slag’ to Nalini who then joined us in the conversation. Not typical HR and PC conversation you might say. That’s what is so great and refreshing about Koula – she’s cool and funny – and not every conversation has to be HR or PC – they were just, well, good and fun conversation.

In the age and time when good HR volunteers are hard to come by – she indeed was exemplary in every respect – most importantly by the need to remain upbeat and cheerful in this mostly downbeat and uncheering human rights world.

I still can’t believe it. I was restless and sleepless that night as all sort of thoughts raced through my mind – not least how cruel, brutish and short life can be.

Farewell Koula. As I shed my few thoughts and tears, may you rest in peace, knowing that in the short while you have been with Suaram, you have re-energised the organisation and the people in it, and touched the lives of so many people, including mine.

Farewell Koula.

Eric Paulsen

4. J-Talk > 亂語胡言 » RIP: Koula (Supa Model Look) Koumis - March 6, 2007

[…] reads: • Allow Me to Grief…@Smoothriver ~ Sam • Sleep Well, Koulabear@Elizabeth Wong ~ The Queen • For Koula@Politikus • always cherished: koula koumis@Jelas ~ […]

5. claire the cat - March 6, 2007

my condolences. *hugs*

i can’t say anything more. coz i do know how it feels like to lose a “friend in arms.” politikus is somehow right to quote star wars.

even if i haven’t met her, i guess the world was lucky to have had her here and touch the lives of so many people.

padayon hanggang the tagumpay!

6. Latheefa Koya - March 6, 2007

Koula! Koula!

First met you at the petrol hike protest at KLCC. We met many times more since until we finally started working together for the Migrant Working Group. We have always shared the same sense of humour and break into instant laughter without even having to go into details. Its the sheer connection. Will never forget the way you call me “Queen” Latheefa with in that funny London accent of yours!

Beautiful!! Greek Goddess!! You have brought back meaning to voluntary work!!

Will miss you, God bless you,


7. Black - March 6, 2007


Sorry to heard about this news. Even though i don’t know her, i hope now she will be at the better place.

Please send my condolence to her families and friend.


8. smoothriver.net » Blog Archive » One last good bye… - March 6, 2007

[…] friends who blogged about this: Queen, Mr J, Politikus & […]

9. Kenny Mah - March 6, 2007

What a heartfelt eulogy for your departed colleague and friend. Do take care. I think it’s great you are remembering her by continuing the work you guys do.

10. always cherished: koula koumis at jelas.info - March 6, 2007

[…] Sleep well, Koulabear « elizabeth wong on post always cherished: koula koumis […]

11. nat - March 6, 2007

this was really well written, and it’s a beautiful song…..

12. Andriana Georhiou - March 6, 2007

To My beautiful Angel, My God daughter, I wish i could have told you what a very special person you where, rest in peace, may Jesus take care of you untill we meet again.

13. Miria Krassos - March 6, 2007

I do not have many words other then I am so touched to see how much Koula was loved around the world.
She was a distant relative of mine, and it has been many years since I last saw her.
We were communicating by email quite a lot, and she always expressed to me how happy she was in Malaysia.

I just want to say that I know that her Mom, Dad, Siblings and of course the rest of the family will be as touched as I am by this website.

Thank you all for taking care of Koula during her last year and just know that her memory will never die.


14. politikus - March 7, 2007

thanks for all that you (and everybody else!) did. a bit late, i know but *hugs*


15. freelunch2020 - March 7, 2007

hope u r ok. *hugz*

16. Rossanna Georgiou - March 7, 2007

Kou Kou…. the girls and I are absolutely devastated… we miss you already. There was 6 of us school gang and there will always be 6 of us, you will always be with us. I received a beautiful birthday card from you today, which made me cry harder, I wanted to email you to thank you for remembering but I couldn’t, so I looked to the sky instead. I am so honoured to have been your friend, so many memories, especially of us as gawky 12 year olds in our school uniforms: Quasar for your birthday, hanging out at each others houses, snow fights at school, you falling in the mud and getting mad with us for laughing, our wall at school. I am so pleased that you got your chance to live the dream, you were so happy when I saw you 3 weeks ago, you were so passionate about what you were doing and the people. Jack will get to hear lots of stories about his aunty Koula, Love you lots and lots xxxx Wish I had told you that more often xxxx

17. Penny Martin - March 7, 2007

I met Koula in January this year when she helped organise a human rights mission in Malaysia. The impression of her when we first saw her on the side of the road outside the office at PJ was immediate: full of life and energy and so welcoming. We spent many hours each day with Koula as she tirelessly worked to help us make the most of our time there. She worked so hard but was always great fun, asking us about ourselves, wanting to find out more and to tell us more about the human rights issues she saw around her. She was one of that very small percentage of people who are truly good, positive and caring about everyone around her. She made people feel cared for and important. She put so much effort into her work with us but did it in a way that was always humane and sensitive. What an utterly terrible loss this is. In such a short time she taught me many things about what a person can be and how we can protect human rights. And to think, she was just beginning. My deepest condolences to her family and partner.

18. andrea koutsou - March 7, 2007

koula, i miss you so much, you have done so much for people (so much of which we didnt know becasue you have been too humble and modist to talk about ), you have touched everybodys heart. You may not be with us physically but you will always be alive in a thoughts. You have the biggest, warmest smile i have ever come across. I love you, and your a star.

Kouts xxxxx

19. susan loone - March 8, 2007

met yap in bangkok this evening, he still felt sad when i asked him abt her…i was shocked too…the last time i met her was in january, and she said she may be coming to bangkok to see me..took my card and mobile number and all…she was so lively and beautiful…but the good leave us earlier because this is a harsh world to live in…why should they suffer? we should be happy for her…she’ll be now among the stars…shining ever so bright…though her flames may have gone out light years ago…

stay strong, for life is unpredictable. do whatever we can now…say whatever we mean now…especially to those you love, and who love us…before it is too late…

hey eli, my shoulder’s for you to cry on if you need it…take care…

or come online lah…i’ll comfort you!

20. Nstman - March 8, 2007

To strive, to seek, and not yield.

21. brian yap - March 9, 2007

i don’t know if i can add anything of value, considering i didn’t know koula very well. i first got to know her when i received an e-mail from her. can’t remember exactly when that was. she wanted to meet me to ask me about malaysian life for a paper she was writing. with a name like that i had no idea what to expect.

then i met a literally towering english lady when she came by my office january 25, 2006 (i don’t have super memory, but rather, the date’s marked down in my calendar). we chatted for over an hour. i wasn’t sure what she really wanted to know but that didn’t stop me from going through a laundry list of everything that’s wrong about our government.

life has a strange way of working out. pak lah raised petrol prices, there was a protest at klcc, i went, and to my surprise, koula was there too, with the suaram gang. turned out she was doing work with them. i would see her and hear from her occassionally after that, but i think the last time i saw her was at suaram’s dinner. it was hard not to spot her in that crowd, and harder not to admire and respect her hard work for an organisation that works for human rights in a country that’s not hers.

may she rest in peace.

22. Anthea Nicolaou - March 9, 2007

My dear beautiful friend Koula…. I will never forget your huge smile, colourful nature and open heart. You are truly an inspiration!

We may have been in different countries for the past few years but you were always right here with us and you always will be. You have an amazing energy and this is not goodbye!

All my love, anths x

23. elle sarno - March 9, 2007

As children i remember birthday parties at koula’s house, playing football with her brother Peter, Jon and Chris her dearest cousins, i will always cherish and remember those childhood days, when koula would skip around us and laugh at me for playing football with the boys.
I will never forget koula for those childhood days but my greatest memories of koula would be our bakery days, her first saturday job , she was always happy, smilling, full of laughter and on one occasion she made me laugh so much to the extent that everytime i saw koulla after she left the bakery we would laugh and i would joke about the day ” a customer asked for a buttered bun, koula instead of cutting the bun and buttering the inside she just buttered the top”

she will always have a place in my heart and never forgotten

Elle xxxx

24. Sue Koumourou - March 9, 2007

There will always be a place in my heart for koula. She had the best smile.

Always Sue xxx

25. Athena - March 10, 2007

My thoughts are with Bobbie and her family. I’m so sorry to hear of the sad news. It so sad that it takes thngs like this to realise the good in people and your regrets for not spending time with them. Bobbie I’m here for you for anything, take care.

Athena xxx

26. Anna Pilina - March 10, 2007

‘…Angels walk amongst us….’ Koula; you did. Koula; you are.

I am truly honoured that i knew you. Love you always, Anna xxxxxx`

27. amaruhizat - March 10, 2007

I am sorry to hear this, my condolance to you.

28. 3540 jalan sudin - March 10, 2007

My deepest condolences to her family and loved ones.

May she rest in peace.

29. Francesca Kyriacou - March 15, 2007

My deepest sympathy to Koula’s family and friends, you will be missed by all who knew you.

To a free spirit ‘May you rest in Peace’

Francesca x

30. George Christophi - March 16, 2007

I can’t believe this news and can’t explain to myself that this is real. My brother and I grew up with Koula, Bobbie and Peter living only 2 doors away from them. We were always treated as family by all of them including their parents Jimi and Stella and our hearts go out to all their family in this extremely shocking time. A smile never left Koulas face and the pictures I see of her are just as I remember, happy, warm and kind.

Lots of Love always
George , Chris, Andy and Susan

31. G Gavriel - March 17, 2007

Koula Koumis will truly be missed!
We grew up together like family. Enjoying good times with both brothers and sisters on both sides of eachothers families.
Koula made everyone laugh with her amazing character – always joking around making funny impressions of how we all acted – which made us close as friends.
She has been far and wide, experiencing many things all around the world, touching many peoples lives. This sad news has devistated us all and you will be truly missed by us all.
To Roley and the family and to everyone who had the opportunity to know Koula our thoughts and prayers go out to you.
Gaf, Rits & all the Family x

32. Baniko Demetriou - March 22, 2007

I was in Koula’s class in prmary school. My memories of her are still so clear. I remember Koula as being so cheerful and always smiling. She had a wonderful smile. Koula was such an adorable little girl who was liked by everybody.
I remember talking to her all the time about football, i probably drove her mad but she never complained. Koula was one of my first ever friends.
Many years have passed but i never forgot Koula and i never will.
I was truly upset to hear this news. My condolences to her family and all her loved ones.

May you rest in peace

Baniko x

33. Tributes flow for human rights activist « elizabeth wong - March 24, 2007

[…] human rights activist from Palmers Green who was killed in a motorcycle crash in Malaysia. Koula Koumis was killed following an accident on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. She […]

34. arifabdull - March 24, 2007


Very sorry to hear this, my condolance to all of Suaram’s guys, Koula’s family and friends.

May she rest in peace.


35. ナキーブ - March 26, 2007

Me she rest in peace,

36. boonhooi - March 27, 2007

I met her with Susan in Jan in Suaram’s office. She was such a lovely girl. I felt so sad to know about this. I missed her. May her soul rest in peace.


37. eyeonmalaysia - March 30, 2007

Dear EW,

I read this poem somewhere in the internet and would like to dedicate this to Koula and her family:

Why God Takes Young People

When God calls young adult to dwell with Him above,
We mortals sometimes question
the wisdom of His love.
For no heartache compares with,
the death of our dear child.
Who does so much to make our world,
seem so wonderful and mild.

Perhaps God tires of calling
the aged to His fold.
So He picks a rosebud
before it can grow old.

God knows how much we need them,
and so He takes but few.
To make the land of heaven
more beautiful to view.

Believing this is difficult
still somehow we must try.
The saddest word mankind knows
will always be Good-bye.

So when our young one departs,
we who are left behind,
Must realize God loves children.

38. helen - July 7, 2007

Koula, I really loved you girlie. I miss you. x x x

39. Rossanna - March 4, 2008

Koula kou…. Its been a year since we lost you, but still seems like yesterday. Its easier for us to imagine that you are still travelling and having fun, and not where we know you are. Every time we meet up, there is always an empty chair where you should be, we will always miss you and love you. You will always live on in our hearts…. miss you chica! xxx

40. Malaysia Classifieds - February 17, 2009

Good candid shots. Great articles. We enjoy it.
Thanks and keep it coming.

41. Supriyadi - February 19, 2009

Hi, Liz can you help me… If you responsive, please call me. Oke..

42. Supriyadi - February 19, 2009

Hi, Lis can You Help me. If hope you responsive. Please call me….

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