It was July 2, more than nine days since 12 boys from a Thai soccer team and their assistant coach had gone missing somewhere inside the Tham Luang cave in North Thailand, when they were finally found by two British divers.
They were huddled in the dark, desperately trying to stay warm. Their assistant coach, 25-year-old former Buddhist monk Ekapol Chanthawong had been teaching the boys meditation in an attempt to keep them calm. Reports say he had given all his food to the boys in his care, taking none for himself.
All 13 looked skeletal, according to the divers.
But it was Adul Sam-on, a 14-year-old born in Myanmar, who played a critical role in the rescue that followed.
When he was six years old, Adul escaped a village in Myanmar known for, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, guerrilla warfare, methamphetamine trafficking and opium cultivation. He had been born to a family that belonged to the Wa ethnic group – a tribe that is currently stateless.
His parents had fled to Thailand, desperate to protect Adul from a likely fate of being coerced into the local violent guerrilla force. They hoped their son could receive an education, offering the potential for a better life.
Thai boys rescued from flooded cave. Post continues.
It was because of this education that he was proficient in five languages, including English, making Adul the conduit that connected the trapped Thai boys with the outside world.
Adul told the divers their group needed food. He told them how they had stayed alive. According to the rescuers, he remained calm and polite, despite their circumstances.
His school principal, Punnawit Thepsurin, told The Washington Post that the 14-year-old is the top student in his class in Mae Sai. His academic and sporting achievements have earned him a scholarship.
“Stateless children have a fighting spirit that makes them want to excel,” Punnawit said. “Adul is the best of the best.”
In acting as an interpreter, Adul was able to advocate for their needs, and learn nine days in that there was help coming.
Though this story might have features of tragedy, with 13 trapped inside a flooded cave, and the death of former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Gunan – who risked his life trying to save others – it also has, hidden within it, moments of beauty.
It is a story about the profound bravery of 12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, who undertook one of the world’s most terrifying and dangerous dives with minimal training.