The boys and their coach in the Thai cave captured the imagination of the world. 12 boys and a young coach trapped deep inside a cave with no way out as rain and flooding trapped them almost 5 km deep. It was also no ordinary cave that ran in a straight line but one that went up, down and twisted its way into a mountain. The boys, known as the Wild Boars, were lucky to find higher ground within the cave with their coach and spent 18 days in there without food. A community formed from across the globe came together to help save them.
Apart from Thai authorities and expert cave divers from Britain, many ordinary Thai people contributed to the rescue. Local diving shops gave oxygen cylinders and diving equipment for free. These are small businesses. Local villagers who had worked hard to plant their rice crops easily agreed to have their fields and villages flooded when water was pumped out of the cave in order to save the boys. A local woman with a laundry business washed and dried everyone's clothes for the days that they were there. The company that pumped the treacherous water out of the caves is staying on in order to pump the water out of the fields and villages, free of cost, in a thank you to the generosity of the people. A local Muslim woman cooked halal food for the Muslim divers for free. A Thai navy seal died in the ultimate sacrifice.
The mission that seemed impossible at first probably would not have gotten off the ground if not for John Volanthen, a British expert cave diver, who had in the past mapped this particular cave. He helped draw out what it looked like on the inside and create a plan for how to rescue the boys. Two other British cave diving experts came in and helped the Thai Navy Seals.
The passage was 5 km long. A 2.8 km stretch was submerged. The flood waters filling the cave would have forced the boys to swim and dive for long stretches and most of them could not swim, let alone, dive. In the end they were semi-sedated, placed on stretchers and with a system of ropes and pulleys passed from diver to diver and checked on by doctors the entire way. Some of them had to be taught to swim. All of them had to be monitored with their masks and oxygen tanks the whole way. This was no natural cave pool or a cenote. It was a cave passage flooded by pouring rain. The long stretch under water was not only pitch dark but filled with debris and sediment. For everyone, it was a risk of incredible proportions.
And yet, for 18 days, people put their time, effort, expertise and lives on the line. The boys sat mostly calmly without dissolving into hysterics. When the first lot were saved, the others did not fight to be taken and waited to be rescued. The coach gave them all of his food and kept their spirits up and helped keep them calm by teaching them to meditate. People around the world sent their thoughts and prayers.
It is this, this singular ability to give of oneself while asking nothing in return for a perfect stranger, that is our greatest gift. It's not our technology, development or our self-proclaimed superior intelligence.
The rescue of the boys and their coach was a happy ending and for the boys, most of whom are Manchester United fans, there is an invitation waiting from Man U to visit Old Trafford.
And what we have found, if we can just hold onto it, is that part of us that works with community, the part that puts someone else ahead of ourselves, the part that gives while asking nothing in return. It can change the world in the doing.
(Swati Thiyagarajan is an Environment Editor with NDTV and author of 'Born Wild', a book about her experiences with conservation and wildlife both in India and Africa)
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