Hours before the last members of the Wild Boars football squad were rescued from Luang cave in northern Thailand’s Mae Sai district, a pair of film producers arrived in the area to start collecting information for what is expected to be a major Hollywood movie.
The film will immortalize the memory of the divers who executed the perilous cave-diving rescue operation, and the limelight is well-deserved. Less likely to be featured in the telling of this rare, heartwarming tale are the stories of the thousands of volunteers who descended upon Mae Sai for nearly three weeks to support the rescue workers, filling their every need so that they could focus on saving lives.
“I got a call from Mae Sai police, inviting me to volunteer to cut the hair of the people working here,” said Mud, 60, who has working as a barber for half his life. He came to the muddy rescue camp near the mouth of Luang cave in early July from the nearby city of Chiang Rai.
Mud told Coconuts that he gave more than 20 haircuts in one day to police officers and soldiers who were helping out with the rescue effort.
Police Colonel Bhop Mulchet, who got a haircut from Mud on July 4, just as preparations for the first evacuation of trapped boys were getting underway, said he appreciated the barber’s presence.
“Sometimes, we work until 2am, and when we wake up, we need to work again right away, so there’s no time to go out for a haircut. That’s why the volunteers are invited to cut hair during our breaks,” he said.
“Some workers have been here for eight or nine days without getting a haircut. We feel that it’s very comfortable for us to get a haircut here. Otherwise it’s very hot,” the police officer added.
Mud said he was happy to give the rescue workers a comforting experience under the stressful conditions of the rescue camp, but he insisted that his presence had a higher purpose.
“The volunteers all come with the same feeling – to help the families [of the boys] in any way they can. To tell the families of the boys to never give up,” he said.
Mud was not the only visitor to the rescue camp who picked up on the importance of menial contributions to the rescue effort. When Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat visited the rescue camp on July 7, he had the same philosophy in mind.
“As a father myself, I made up my mind since the beginning that I had to stay with the parents to give them my full support. So, the first day I came, I intended to stay until sundown. I know how parents feel after sunset,” the minister said. “As am here, I noticed that the toilets must be cleaned. Seeing everyone wear muddy boots and the toilets dirty, I told my team to find staff or volunteers to make sure the toilets are clean.”
The endurance of the volunteers continued even after the 13 Wild Boars were rescued some of them 18 days after they first entered Luang cave. When the Thai Navy SEALs announced on their Facebook page that the last four boys and their coach had been evacuated safely, the volunteers at the press center, who had already been passing out cooked food and cold drinks for days, erupted into applause and announced excitedly that they would be giving out “free apples” to everyone who had been involved in sharing the boys’ story with the world.
Kanchana, a woman who had come to volunteer as a translator for rescue workers and journalists because the rescue operations happened to coincide with her days off from work, said: “I hope you now understand the kindness of King Rama X. I hope you now understand the hospitality of Thai people.”