Lifelong care - that was his promise

Volunteer keeps his word to late mother of twins with genetic disorder Causes Week features stories about charities and causes, as well as people and organisations raising funds for them

CALL it an uncanny sense of foreboding or simply a manifestation of maternal instinct.

Four years ago, single mother Joan Canafee asked Mr Kenneth Li, a volunteer with the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD): "Would you look after the boys when I am gone?"

The wheelchair-bound divorcee had teenage twins with congenital achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. Her greatest fear was that they would be unable to fend for themselves in her absence.

Mr Li, then 22, said yes - without much hesitation. By then, he had developed a close bond with the boys.

In February this year, Madam Canafee died of pneumonia at age 58, leaving her 18-year-old boys, Aman Mohd Sani and Amin Mohd Sani, with nobody but an older brother, 21, who is doing his national service.

Mr Li first met the twins when he was only 18, through a befriending programme at SPD. Said Amin: "The first time I met him, I didn't know even how to begin a conversation with him."

The programme was supposed to last for two years, but Mr Li, now a financial consultant at Prudential, has continued supporting the boys financially and emotionally for eight years. He told The Straits Times last week: "The commitment I made is lifelong and I will not abandon the boys."

Achondroplasia is a genetic disorder of bone growth characterised by short stature and disproportionately short limbs.

Through the tumultuous years when they were teased because of their condition, when financial difficulties plagued the family, when their parents' marriage dissolved and their father left home and later when their mother died, Mr Li was by their side.

"Kenneth was there for us from the beginning, and from here, all I can say now is thank you," said Amin.

Dropping by their house every week, he would coach the boys in their studies and take them out to cycle when they needed a breather. With his encouragement, the family star-ted picking up the pieces. To supplement their welfare aid, Madam Canafee began to cook Malay food while the boys went from door to door after school to sell the food.

After their mother's sudden death, Mr Li sat all three boys down to plan for the future.

"Rather than simply helping them monetarily, what is more important is imparting to them the right values and skills so that they can find a job and be self-reliant," said Mr Li, who also runs a company which produces corporate gifts.

During their school holidays this year, after their mother's death, he hired the twins part- time so that they could pick up cashiering and accounting skills.

The twins, who are studying at the Institute of Technical Education, now get monthly - instead of weekly - visits from Mr Li as they have become more independent. They have also reached the age where they are reluctant to accept his treats and pocket money. "They say that they will treat me back when they start working," he said. "I tell them that I will be more than happy when that day comes."

To find out more about SPD's programmes, write to