Eleven boys from a soccer team, who were rescued from a flooded Thai cave took their first steps on Tuesday, 24 July, to be ordained as Buddhist novices in a ceremony steeped in tradition.
The occasion was broadcast live on Facebook by local authorities and starts a process whereby the boys will live for nine days in a Buddhist temple – a promise made by their families in thanks for their safe return and in memory of one rescuer who died.
The rescue involved divers and volunteers from all over the world and ended on 10 July when the last of the group was brought to safety from inside Chiang Rai's Tham Luang Cave in Northern Thailand.
The boys and their 25-year-old coach Ekapol Chanthawong had gone to explore the caves on 23 June, where they became trapped. They survived for nine days on water dripping from rocks before they were discovered on a muddy mound by divers.
"The eleven boys will be ordained as novices, whereas Coach Ek will be ordained as a monk," Rachapol Ngamgrabuan, an official at Chiang Rai's provincial press office, told viewers on Facebook.
One of the boys, fourteen-year-old Adul Sam-on is Christian and will not be ordained..
Wearing simple white clothes, the boys pressed their palms together in prayer during the morning ceremony as a saffron-robed monk gave thanks for their safe rescue
The boys and their coach lit yellow candle sticks at the Wat Phra That Doi Wao, a scenic temple in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district, where the boys are from. Trays of sweets, fruits and sugary drinks were placed in front of Buddha statues wrapped in shiny gold cloth.
The boys will live as monks for nine days starting on Wednesday, Chiang Rai officials said in a statement on Sunday.
Along with their coach, they will have their hair shaved on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the main ordination ceremony on Wednesday (25 July).
Australia Honours Bravery of the Divers Involved in the Rescue
Meanwhile, Australia gave state honours on Tuesday to nine people who helped rescue most of the Thai boys' soccer team, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying their teamwork had set an example for world leaders.
Turnbull hastened the usual honours approval process and held a ceremony to recognise the Australians involved in the drama that gripped the world for weeks, which he called an extraordinary international effort.
“If only leaders were as collaborative as you were,” Turnbull said at the event, attended by the Thai ambassador to Australia. “You held up an example to us all.”
Australia's governor-general, Peter Cosgrove, gave its second-highest bravery award, the Star of Courage, to anaesthetist Richard Harris and veterinarian Craig Challen, who abandoned holiday plans to take a central role in the mission.
Harris was credited with assessing the boys' health, administering anaesthesia before they left the cave, and advising authorities on rescue methods. He was the last person to leave the cave and learnt soon after that his father had died.
Challen helped the boys manage their equipment during the rescue.
The operation to extract the team involved a core team of 18, including 13 foreign divers. The boys, fitted with thick wetsuits and full-face scuba masks, were guided through dark, flooded passageways towards the mouth of the cave.
The first part of the journey involved some diving. For the last part, the boys were put in green plastic toboggans and carried through.
Cosgrove also gave bravery awards to six police officers and a navy officer who were part of the mission.
The rescuers were "remarkable, skilful, tireless, compassionate and courageous," he added.
"Everybody was focused on the same thing: getting those boys out safely," Turnbull added, recounting the Australian participants' explanation of how a diverse team came together to pull off the rescue.
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