Lessons in solidarity from the Tham Luang cave rescue drama

Much of the world was held spellbound by the drama of the 12 boys and their coach who were trapped in treacherous flooded caves in northern Thailand from June 23 to July 10, 2018.

Jul 20, 2018

By Anil Netto
Much of the world was held spellbound by the drama of the 12 boys and their coach who were trapped in treacherous flooded caves in northern Thailand from June 23 to July 10, 2018. Their plight and the ensuing multinational rescue effort riveted people around the world, grabbing the headlines away from even the ongoing football World Cup — no mean feat, that!

The rescue effort showcased human solidarity at its best. Think of the sheer courage and skill of the rescuers, 100 Thai and foreign divers, and their selflessness. Expert caving explorers and divers converged in Thailand from all over the world to lend a hand. One former Thai Navy Seal diver Saman Gunan, 38, paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life in the rescue effort.

Think of the volunteers, ordinary Thais, who helped by providing meals to the rescuers. Others were even willing to sacrifice their paddy fields and homes so that millions of litres of water could be pumped out of the caves. People helped to clean toilets. Drivers offered free lifts. A local laundromat cleaned the divers’ and rescuers’ muddy outfits daily.

Think of the brave boys who survived for so long on a ledge in pitch darkness and their coach, a former Buddhist monk, who kept them calm through meditation, thus helping them to survive the ordeal. Think of the Thai public who refused to blame the coach but embraced all of them.

Think of the foreign engineers and technical experts who played a huge supporting role. Think of how those pumps were so rapidly set up to pump out water from the caves and the quick installation of a communications network around the remote area.

This was the best in human spirit and solidarity, on display throughout the ongoing saga. Nobody talked about payment or how much the effort would cost. It just had to be done.

In the event, all 12 boys and their coach were rescued and so, the story had a happy ending, prayers and supplications answered. This miraculous rescue also was made possible because so many people came forward to offer help and solidarity.

Not only that, the wall-to-wall coverage in most media and the efforts of journalists at the scene, which brought those scenes into living rooms all over the world, played a huge part. People all over the world were made aware of the critical urgency of the unfolding drama, which was all over in two weeks. They lived the drama unfolding in Thailand.

If the global human family could perform this miracle, what is stopping us from resolving other critical global situations, where lives are at risk in precarious circumstances through famine, extreme weather conditions, war and violence, lack of access to education and healthcare especially among the poor and marginalised.

Perhaps the circumstances in those other situations may be less dramatic and compelling, the time-frame more drawn out – but they are no less urgent and compelling.

According to Unicef, one person dies of starvation every 3.6 seconds — and usually it is a child under 5. One in three children — 500m of them — in developing countries have no access to proper sanitation; 400m have no access to piped water. Some 13 per cent of children in developing countries have never been to school.

Why is it we don’t see these desperate situations televised live all around the world? Few people are inspired to mobilise resources to rescue lives from the darkness of deprivation. Perhaps these desperate situations are not as dramatic as a cave rescue effort, which could be turned into a Hollywood production before too long. Or, perhaps, the problems elsewhere are too overwhelming to resolve in two weeks, before people lose interest.

But just as in the cave drama, all it takes is one selfless act of giving to inspire the rest of the world to contribute and share their expertise and resources, whatever they can, no matter how huge or small the offer.

We have seen this kind of miracle before, haven’t we? After all, what did it take for Jesus to feed five thousand people? All it took was a little boy coming forward with five barley loaves and two fish — an incredible act of faith and solidarity and selflessness. Imagine how that must have inspired the multitude gathered there — in the same way that the courage and selflessness of the cave divers and rescuers in Thailand held the world spellbound. We don’t know what exactly happened next, in the Gospel story, but, five thousand people were fed, and probably inspired — and there were plenty of leftovers.

If only we could extend the same human solidarity and selfless sharing of resources and expertise to the other problems confronting the world; no child needs to die of hunger or suffer for lack of food, sanitation, healthcare and education.

The situation is just as urgent and compelling as the cave rescue in Thailand.

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