I wish I could say 18 October 2009 was a brilliant day for all of us at Team Hope. Everything was in place. Sparkling blue skies. Music. Laughter. An amazing sense that finally, after months of fundraising and planning, our little project was taking off. I wish I could say everyone left on a high, buoyed by the tremendous show of support from the dozens of student volunteers who came to help, the Law Minister, the celebrities who showed up to play. But I cannot.
Instead, there is this immense sadness. A heaviness that refuses to go away.
At 12.10pm, Nasri Kasbari collapsed on the pitch. He was Team Hope’s 25-year old goalie; had eagerly volunteered when he showed up bright and early to collect his kit. He had seemed so very excited, so happy to play.
At first, it looked as if Nasri had fainted. Or perhaps it was a cramp. The first aid team was with him immediately. From a distance, we could see someone fanning him with what looked like a big towel. Everyone appeared very calm. We thought it was probably not very serious.
But the minutes ticked by and Nasri didn’t seem to get any better. He was given CPR. An ambulance arrived soon after. It all looked so surreal. We watched in near silence as Nasri was placed onto a stretcher and carried into the ambulance. Gerard, our volunteer emcee for the day and a trained medic went with him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
The rest of the day felt like a dream. The packing up and counting of kits. Boxes and footballs loaded onto the van. Calls from Gerard that kept getting cut off because of poor reception.
We received the news long after all the players and guests had left. Nasri passed away that afternoon. He never regained consciousness.
All of us who’ve worked hard on Team Hope had looked forward to October 18. We all cheered when we saw the players in their black and gold jerseys on the pitch. Whooped when they scored their three goals. We had all believed in the project. Believed in it wholeheartedly. I have never collaborated with people more passionate, more enthusiastic, more giving.
Was there more we could have done? Nasri was just 25. He looked healthy, assured us he would make a good goalie. He’d had a rest before the second half of the match. And he had received help almost immediately after he collapsed. The hospital says he died of cardiorespiratory failure. Why? How? Perhaps we will never know.
For now, there’s an overwhelming sense of sadness. Shock. Our priority is the family. Team Hope Chairman Pastor Andrew spent the afternoon consoling them, but the committee was told to wait a day before visiting. Nasri’s wife wants to grieve in private. She needs to deal with her own trauma, settle her kids, make plans for the future. She needs her space.
The rest of us? We need now to find the strength to carry on. We will regroup, and we will ask questions. We will run through the day’s events again… and again. Was there anything we could have done better?
And we will not forget that when Nasri woke up on 18 October 2009, he was excited about joining a team. He was excited about playing, about being part of a community.
Thirty men and their families are still part of the team. And because of that, we have to keep going. To be better, try harder. To hope.