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The cave

Today marks the second week since the crisis began in Chiang Rai, Thailand, after a coach and 12 young boys, members of a soccer team, entered Tham Luang Nang Non cave and got stranded inside because of rising waters from heavy rains.

While the whole drama has been nerve-wracking, it does show a side of humanity that we may have given up on, what with the daily fare of news of wars and shootings and murders. This cave crisis has mobilized the Thai navy as well as numerous government agencies, and with help from various countries, notably Britain, the multinational endeavor shows we are ready to pour in massive resources to save lives.

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The drama gives a new meaning to hope. The first few days after the team disappeared, journalists were reporting on the pessimism among officials, who felt the chances of survival were slim. Yet the rescue efforts persisted, and on day 10, the world cheered when the boys were finally found on a muddy, elevated rock about 2 kilometers from the entrance. British and Thai divers were able to dive into the waters and make their way to the boys.

Videos taken inside the cave have been heartwarming. The boys, although in poor nutritional condition and in low spirits, are still able to smile and laugh, as in one video where they each introduced themselves, and one of the younger ones protested because the team forgot to let him have his turn.

But the elation has given way to more anxieties as experts looked for ways to bring the boys out. The boys were stranded, and could not get out because the cave was flooded. The Thai monsoon is like our own, running from June to November. If heavy rains come in, there is the danger of the waters inundating the last refuge of the team. Most of the boys can’t swim, much less handle scuba gear.

That got me thinking of our situation in the Philippines. Until recently, people avoided caves, which were associated with the supernatural, and with danger. In the last few years, taking off from the rise in western countries of caving (or spelunking) as recreation, we now have young people in countries like Thailand and the Philippines drawn to the caves by a sense of adventures and mystery.

The problem for developing countries is that our safety culture is still weak, and the gear for safe caving is expensive. All the more reason we need to institute clear policies, safety guidelines and training for caving activities.

I was also not surprised to read that most of the Thai boys could not swim; it’s the same situation in the Philippines. We really should consider how we can get more young people to learn swimming, and I mean real swimming and not just dog paddling.

The Thai drama will heighten in the days to come. An earlier plan was to have the boys dive into the water and swim out with expert adult divers, after getting crash lessons in swimming and the use of scuba equipment. But that is now seen as too risky.

A bolder but less risky plan is to continue to pump out water and to create more air pockets inside, and then use a very long static rope for expert divers to use to pass the boys to each other, relay-style, for the entire 2-km stretch. The adults would carry the oxygen tanks, ready to be administered to the boys if needed.

Getting the boys out of the cave and to the welcoming arms of their loved ones will only be the first step in a long rehabilitation process to heal physical and psychological trauma. In the years to come, though, that cave will stand as a symbol of a time when the world found respite from the madness of war and killings.

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TAGS: cave, Chiang Rai, Swimming, Thailand, trapped
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