12 July 2018
12 July 2018

They were kids… just kids… and their story captivated the world.

The 12 boys literally disappeared from sight — swallowed whole, or so it seemed, by a cave in the hills of northern Thailand. And yet, thanks to the determination, kindness and bravery of others they were found and — against all odds — they were saved.

No one imagined the drama that would ensue when the members of a Thai youth football team called “The Wild Boars” decided to do a little exploring after a Saturday morning practice session on June 23rd.

They left their bikes outside the entrance to nearby Tham Luang cave and wandered inside. When they did not return home, their 25-year-old coach went looking for them, found the bikes and followed their trail deep into the cavern.

And then the rains came. Heavy rains. They were all trapped in the dark and the damp with no means of escape.

Thais came together to search for the boys. Nine days later — with help from a team of British cave divers — they were found alive.

What followed was a victory over the “rain gods,” as one local official put it. Dozens of divers from around the world — led by a group of Thai Navy SEALS – came together to gradually and painstakingly bring the boys to safety through the lengthy flooded-out tunnels of the cave.

They worked in small teams with one diver tethered to each boy, and another following closely behind. Together, they guided these children with little or no swimming experience through a treacherous series of dark passageways, some filled with churning water.

It was perilous for all concerned — indeed, one volunteer diver died early in the rescue operation —  and we all waited, watched and prayed.

Finally, a post on the Thai Navy SEALs Facebook page relayed the good news:  “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave.”

The last ones to leave the cave were five final members of the rescue team — a couple Thai divers and a medic who stayed in the cavern for days to keep watch over the kids. They put the children’s lives first.

They were boys from the hill tribes of Thailand but for several weeks they became children of the world. We all feared for their lives, felt the angst of their families and cheered when they came to safety.

At a time when so much of the news hitting Washington seems so negative and unnerving, and Americans appear to be split in so many ways, the tale of the Wild Boars brought us all together.

Even President Trump was moved and put aside the nastiness that has marked his Twitter feed to post:

“On behalf of the United States, congratulations to the Thai Navy SEALs and all on the successful rescue of the 12 boys and the coach from the treacherous cave in Thailand. Such a  beautiful moment — all freed, great job!”

Yes, it’s true.  We can all agree it was a beautiful moment. But Mr. President, what about the thousands of traumatized children who are closer to home?

Human rights activist Amy Siskind, who heads a group in the US called The New Agenda, put it this way in a tweet of her own:

“Now that all 12 of the kids have been rescued from the cave, let’s focus on the 3000 migrant children that the Trump regime separated from their parents and have hidden from our media and are treating like animals.”

Now granted, Siskind has long been a critic of the Trump administration, and while there are plenty of Americans who would take issue with her reference to the “Trump regime,” the fact is we still have a humanitarian crisis unfolding in this country thanks to the president’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

A few months ago, the Justice Department announced that it would arrest and detain anyone caught crossing the southern border of the United States without proper documentation and that families taken into custody would be separated.

Children as young as several months old were taken from their arms of their parents and sent to detention facilities or foster homes. It became a public relations nightmare for the White House and in time the President relented a bit, saying a way would be found for families to be detained together.

But what about the kids already separated from their moms and dads? The Trump administration said it would reunite them with their parents but the process has been painfully slow.

About 100 of the youngest children — all under the age of 5 — were supposed to be released from government custody by July 10th. But on the same day we were elated by the news of rescued children in Thailand, the Trump administration was asking for more time to meet the court-mandated deadline.

President Trump, who was so pleased to hear the Thai boys had been freed, showed no compassion for the children being held captive on American soil. As he was leaving the White House on Tuesday, July 10th for Europe, he was asked about their fate. He said “tell people not to come to our country illegally.”

There was no sign of concern and certainly no tears for these kids, most of whom have parents who braved a dangerous journey to the United States in search of a better, safer life for their children. There is no rescue, says the President, for children facing violence, poverty or both here in the Americas.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from the State of New Jersey has a unique way of describing the administration stand. He calls it “moral vandalism.”

The President says we have to go after those who knowingly break our laws. But one of the lessons of recent days is what can happen when people of various background come together to help kids in trouble — be they from Thailand, or the gang-plagued neighborhoods of El Salvador. They all deserve a chance at life… and we all should feel a sense of responsibility to help, each in our own unique way.

As Senator Booker put it: “Now is the time we need to see more action, more engagement, more love.”



Paula Wolfson

Paula Wolfson is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered three presidents and six presidential campaigns. She was the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America before switching to commercial radio, where she reported on science and health care policy, Recently she returned to her first love and is writing once again on American politics and foreign policy for halimiz.com

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