x

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

The boys rescued from the Thai cave should be given long-term care and support

Making their lives free from the stress of this ordeal should be the priority now

A photo of Duangpetch Promthep, one of the boys trapped in Tham Luang cave, is seen here on the mobile phone of one of his classmates. EPA
A photo of Duangpetch Promthep, one of the boys trapped in Tham Luang cave, is seen here on the mobile phone of one of his classmates. EPA

When the governor of Thailand’s Chiang Rai province said on Tuesday that rescuers had “achieved the impossible”, he was not exaggerating. The search operation initiated after 12 members of the Wild Boar football team and their coach went missing inside the Tham Luang cave on June 23 was a leap in the dark. And extracting them once they had been located was a race against time and nature as rains threatened to render any action impossible. The death of Saman Gunan, a hugely experienced retired Thai Navy Seal, as he was installing oxygen tanks inside the tunnels underscored the dangers lurking in the cave.

The international cooperation, with specialists flying in from the UK, the US and Australia, throughout this crisis was heartening. But as Thai Navy Seals wrote on their Facebook page after the last of the boys was safely recovered, we will long wonder if this was “a miracle, a science, or what”. Prominent figures, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, have sent their congratulations.

Everybody wants a picture with the boys and invitations have been extended to them to attend the football World Cup final in Moscow. The boys are too frail to travel, but the heightened attention they have garnered comes with the risk of dissolving into neglect over time. This, sadly, is what happened with the Chilean miners, who got trapped 700 metres underground for 69 days in 2010. After their rescue, they were invited to football matches and chat shows; there was a book and film about them. But where are they today? Many of them are still suffering from post-traumatic stress and some struggle to step into the sunlight.

Eventually, interest in these boys, too, will taper away, but the boys themselves will continue to require support and care. There is a long life ahead of them: making it as free of stress from the ordeal they have been through should be the priority of authorities and well-wishers. There may be denunciations of their coach in the future for leading the boys to the cave, but persecuting him would be unfair. They have all endured enough. It is now for the rest of the world to appreciate that they are not a spectacle.