MAE SAI, Thailand — As operations to rescue the remaining members of a young soccer team and their coach from a cave in northern Thailand continued Monday, the classmates and teachers of some of them are preparing to help the youngsters return to ordinary life after their ordeal.
Kanet Pongsuwan, the principal of the nearby Mae Sai Prasitsart School — which six of the boys attend — said the rescued students will be eased back into the classroom.
“We will not push them too hard on their studies,” he said, adding that extra tutoring will be given to allow the boys to catch up on their missed work. They won’t be required to take exams that were scheduled for next week, he added.
Kanet said the boys will be treated as disaster victims and will be given psychological evaluations and assistance after their ordeal.
“We will treat them positively and not put the blame on them for anything,” he said. “They were the victims of a disaster.”
The Wild Boars soccer team of 12 boys ages 11 to 17 and their 25-year-old coach were stranded inside the massive Tham Luang cave complex in northern Chiang Rai province on June 23.
Four of the boys were rescued in an operation Sunday and were taken to a hospital in Chiang Rai, a city about 35 miles from the cave site. Four more boys were rescued Monday.
As of Monday afternoon, the identities of the rescued boys had not been released.
Friends of the stranded boys said that they would do everything possible to help them readjust to normal life.
“When my friends are back, we will do everything as normal,” said Waranchit Kankaew, 14, a member of the Wild Boars who is good friends with three of the trapped players. “We will go to lunch together, we will play football together.”
Exploring the Tham Luang cave complex was not unusual, he said. “It’s our cave, it’s Mae Sai’s cave. We need to explore it.”
Waranchit said he has been there four times and once got trapped inside himself for about 30 minutes but added that the chance of returning to the cave now is slim: “No thanks,” he said.
Another member of the soccer team, Poowadet Khamngern, 14, has the first meal with his friends planned for when they return.
“We’re going to eat fried chicken at KFC,” he said.
Search for trapped soccer team in Thailand
Other kids at the school, which has about 2,800 students, want to give a helping hand to the boys, even if they didn’t know them in person.
“We will help them study,” said Chanthima Saengchan, 17. “We will do whatever we can to help.”
Technology teacher Suwicha Jitbarn, 33, who taught one of the trapped boys, 16-year-old Pheeraphat Somphandjai, described his student as cooperative in class but said that he and his soccer teammates had an adventurous streak.
“They are explorer kids,” he said. “They like sports, outdoor activity.”
Jitbarn has been in regular contact with Pheeraphat’s parents and said they are planning to send him to a monastery for a month after he is rescued from the cave.
“They prayed and made an offer that if he was released, he will go to a monastery for a month,” he said. “It is part of our Buddhist beliefs (in Thailand) and it will also help him to focus and clear his mind.”
The Buddhist practice of meditation has played a part in helping the boys stay calm and preserve energy during their ordeal. Their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, spent a decade as a monk. His aunt told the Associated Press that that he was helping the boys to meditate in the cave.
Jitbarn, the teacher at Mae Sai Prasitsart, said the study of Buddhism and meditation was part of the curriculum at the school, as is standard around Thailand, which is 95% Buddhist.
Ariyamaittachai Eakapatawintr, a Buddhist monk who visited the cave site to pray for the boys’ rescue, said meditating would help preserve precious air supply and help them deal with the fear and anxiety of being trapped.
“When you meditate, you use less oxygen and you can stay calm,” Ariyamaittachai said.