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Relatively Speaking

Relatively Speaking with Special Olympian Salihin Sinai

Published on May 18, 2014 4:55 PM
Special Olympics athlete Salihin Sinai (on bicycle) with his family (from left) father Sinai Alwee, stepbrother Nur Ariff Aman and stepmother Junaini Rawi. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

When Special Olympics athlete Salihin Sinai was in Primary 3 at Chongfu School, his teacher realised that he was extremely quiet in class and suggested that he transfer to a special education school instead.

His father, Mr Sinai Anwee, 67, says in Malay: "Since the teacher said it was the best for Salihin and I wanted the best for him, I took the teacher's suggestion. I accepted the fact that he had to change schools."

Switching to Fernvale Gardens School, a school run by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds), gave Mr Salihin, now 27 and a dental technician, a chance to be exposed to sports.

He says: "When I went to the school, my form teacher asked me to learn swimming. That's the first time I learnt to swim."

His passion for sports eventually took him to the Special Olympics. He took part for the first time during the 1999 Special Olympics New Zealand National Games and won one gold, one silver and one bronze for swimming.

Four years later, he won two bronze medals in badminton at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Ireland. In 2011, he became the first special athlete from Asia to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Next up for him: The Milo Youth Triathlon on May 31. He will be participating with his stepbrother Nur Ariff Aman, 22, in the family team relay.

The sixth edition of the non-competitive event partners with Special Olympics Singapore. Mr Salihin will be swimming and Mr Ariff, a student at Lasalle College of the Arts, will be running. They will be joined by a 16-year-old Special Olympics volunteer who will be cycling.

Mr Salihin's father, a health assistant at a hospital, married his stepmother, housewife Junaini Rawi, in 2001, a year after his mother died of complications from diabetes.

Madam Junaini, 57, who has four children from her first marriage, says: "I told my sons that Salihin was in a special school but I didn't want them to treat him differently. I told them to treat him as a normal person."

Mr Salihin and Mr Ariff certainly seem to have the kind of relationship many brothers have. They go cycling together once or twice a week and Mr Ariff appreciates that they have got each other's back.

He says: "We cycle on the road sometimes and we need to look out for each other. At times, I ride irresponsibly on the road so he keeps a lookout and watches my back and sometimes, it's the other way around. Also, when we do irresponsible things at home, like getting into trouble with my parents, we need each other for back-up."

Mr Salihin lives with his family, which includes a younger sister and three other stepbrothers, in a three-room HDB flat in Yishun.

Was it difficult for the two families to live together initially?

Madam Junaini: No. Before we got married, we got the children to know one another. What was important was for my sons to adapt to this family. We got married after the children agreed to it.

Mr Salihin: Sometimes, my stepbrothers would ask me if I want to play games with them or play soccer.

Mr Ariff: Salihin was very quiet at first. But things just happened naturally. We watched TV together, we talked to him and tried to explain things to him. From there, he started to talk more. I think that's how we broke the ice.

Do the children fight for their space at home, such as over sleeping arrangements?

Madam Junaini: They never argue about sleeping territories. They are accepting of the family's situation.

Mr Sinai: We find joy in living together and being close as a family despite the tight sleeping arrangements. It's a lot more fun when we're watching soccer together as a big group.

Are you worried that there's no one to look after Salihin when you grow older?

Madam Junaini: I don't worry because I told all my sons, "If anything happens to me, make sure you look after him." My sons all support him and told me not to worry.

Mr Ariff: We've already discussed this a long time ago. We treat Salihin as a brother. We are a family now, so we need to take care of one another.

Mr Sinai: As a father, of course I am worried about my son's future. He is my responsibility. I know that I'm going to leave it to God to take care of it. But I will still fulfil my responsibility as a father.

How do you spend time together as a family?

Madam Junaini: Everyone comes home every day, we sit in the living room and joke with one another or watch TV together.

Mr Salihin: We watch football games together.

Madam Junaini: Their sister will go into the room with me and we'll have a girl's talk session (laughs).

Mr Ariff: We are very close to one another. We go bowling together occasionally. We'll go out for dinner or go out together at least once a month. It's better to go out for dinner because when my mum cooks, some of us eat in the living room and some of us eat in the kitchen.

How's your relationship with your step- parent?

Mr Salihin: I accepted her immediately as my mum. Sometimes she asks me what I want to eat and she'll cook it for me.

Madam Junaini: I ask everyone in the family what he or she wants to eat and I'll cook it. Salihin's favourite is sweet and sour fish.

Mr Ariff: If it's serious stuff, I'll talk to my mum. Although my stepfather and I are very close and our relationship is good, we don't talk about anything serious.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Madam Junaini: If I were Salihin, I would strive to be the best I can be, so that society will not look down on me.

Mr Sinai: If I were Salihin, I would encourage myself to be more motivated and confident of myself. Actually, I am already proud of him. He has improved a lot now. He used to be a lot more quiet growing up.

Mr Ariff: If I were to swop roles with my father, I would want to be the go-to guy my children approach when there are important decisions to be made.

Mr Salihin: My parents have brought me up in the best possible way and I wouldn't change anything they have done.