Classmates, teachers of rescued Thai boys ready to give warm welcome

Classmates and teachers of the 12 Thai boys who were trapped in a cave for about 17 days are preparing to give them a warm welcome once they return to school following their rescue.

The residents in the town of Mae Sai were overjoyed when news first emerged that the boys were safe. Six of the boys studied at Maesaiprasitsart School in Mae Sai, in Thailand's Chiang Rai province.

Their friends are planning to hold belated birthday parties for two of the boys who were rescued - Piraphat Sompiangjai, 16, whose birthday is on June 23, and Prajak Sutham, 14, whose big day falls on July 1.

Many are planning to treat them to moo ka ta, barbecue-style pork.

Ms Kalayanin, a drinks seller, said all 12 boys and their coach would often stop by her stall.

The 46-year-old told The Straits Times yesterday: "I miss their faces, and I can almost hear the coach calling the boys by their nicknames... He is a father figure to the boys."

Mr Mongkolchai Khonchom, Maesaiprasitsart School's deputy director, said that when the boys returned to school, extra classes would be provided and classmates would help fill them in on lessons they missed.

He said: "In the future, our school will take the lessons from this event and share them among our students."

One of the students, Waranchit Gangaew, 14, told a press conference yesterday that he and the boys had been to the Tham Luang cave in the past.

"When they are all out of the cave, I will not ask them a thing. I just want to hug them," he said.

The restrictions placed by the authorities on access to the cave did not stop people from stepping up as volunteers, said a provision shop owner in Ban Jong village near the cave.

Some volunteered to clean toilets or do the laundry while others became translators for foreign rescue workers.

The 54-year-old shop owner said: "If we can't directly help rescue the boys and their coach, we help in other ways.

"On two occasions, we cooked for a group of 20 rescue climbers from Trang in southern Thailand."