Dream comes true for Abang as he meets LionsXII idols
Dream comes true for Abang, the 12-year-old father figure, carer and cook for his family, as he gets to meet his idols LionsXII, courtesy of TNP
The boy who touched the hearts of many a Singaporean had just one dream - having a kick-about with the LionsXII.
All he wanted was to play with his footballing heroes, so The New Paper helped make his dream come true on Wednesday evening.
The story of Abang's (Malay for older brother) hardships was reported in The New Paper on Sunday.
The 12-year-old was thrown into extraordinary circumstances.
With a mother who says she cannot work due to a bad shoulder and mismanaged diabetes and a stepfather who is absent due to a slew of unpaid debts, Abang (we are not revealing his name) took on the role of father, carer and cook for his younger siblings.
The story went viral with over 17,000 shares and close to 7,000 likes on TNP's Facebook.
The only thing the Primary 6 boy - who sheepishly admitted to failing mathematics in school while "I pass most things" - would allow himself to dream about? Kicking a football with the LionsXII.
But he had said to this reporter then: "It is probably impossible."
On Wednesday, TNP worked with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and surprised Abang at his two-room rental flat in Woodlands.
We bundled him and his family into a car, blindfolded him and drove him to the LionsXII's training ground at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Abang, who had submitted gamely, thought he was in for a treat - an outing at Causeway Point.
A visit to the McDonald's restaurant at the mall just minutes away from his home is an exceptional day for the young boy, who has never been beyond the confines of Singapore, explained his mother, Madam Nora.
When his blindfold was eventually taken off, Abang was stunned at the sight that greeted him.
WATCH: Abang meets the LionsXII
It was the LionsXII football team, who stood in a semi-circle around the boy.
Abang received a standing ovation from the players he was used to only seeing on TV - if he had the time to watch, that is.
The team's captain and goalkeeper, Izwan Mahbud, told Abang that they "were proud to have him as a supporter" and that they were "inspired by his story".
The goalkeeper then introduced the star-struck Abang to his idols, Faris Ramli, Khairul Amri and Sahil Suhaimi, before meeting the rest of the team.
Winger Gabriel Quak put a pair of new football boots on his feet before he and his four other siblings - aged 11, nine, seven and 30 months - enjoyed a kick-about with the players.
KEEP IN TOUCH
Forward Khairul, 30, asked if he could keep in touch with the family.
He told Madam Nora that he and his family would like to pay them a visit after reading the story and being inspired by the perseverance Abang continues to show despite their plight.
When Madam Nora later told Abang about the planned visit, he looked at her with wide eyes and a big smile and said: "Betul (really in Malay)?"
After two hours on the pitch, as Abang and his family headed home, he turned to his mother and asked in Malay: "Mama, did that really just happen?
"I really never thought it would ever happen. I cannot believe it, mama. Is this a dream?"
During the team's training session, Abang was also presented with a signed LionsXII jersey and ball.
"I cannot believe this," he told TNP later.
"They talked to me like I was their friend, like they knew me. I never thought I would be able to watch them play live, let alone meet them face to face."
Winger Faris, 22, told TNP: "He is such a strong boy.
"I looked after my siblings when I was younger too but not to the extent that this boy is doing. He really has taken it to a whole new level.
"His story is just amazing and I'm honoured to have a fan like him".
When asked if he was happy that he finally got the opportunity he never thought was possible, Abang said: "My wildest dream just came true".
Offers pour in for Abang and family
Since the story came out in The New Paper on Sunday, Abang and his family have received support from well-wishers in Singapore.
The kitchen that TNP saw on Wednesday evening was a stark contrast from before: The once-bare shelves are now stacked with bags of rice and diapers.
Abang, who still cooks for his family, said his family have also received clothes from kind people such as TNP readers and those who heard about their plight through word of mouth.
About 100 people have contacted TNP to offer their help. Some want to donate money, others food supplies and tutoring services. A few are interested in coaching Abang in football.
"I am so touched by the support that we have received from people who don't even know us," Abang's mum, Madam Nora, said.
"They visit us at home, telling us to get in touch with them if we ever needed any help," she added.
Tuition teachers have also come forward and offered to help tutor Abang, especially because his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is around the corner.
"Mama told me that tuition teachers want to help me with my subjects because my exams are coming," Abang said.
"But it's hard to leave my adik (Malay for younger sibling) alone because I still have to help Mama if she needs to go for hospital appointments.''
He looked up hopefully and asked this reporter: "Are there people who can really help? I also want to pass my Maths exam," he said shyly.
He added: "We have people whom I don't know visiting our family and talking to us.
"Most of them just tell me that they are proud of me but I don't understand. I'm just helping Mama.''