Also spelled Ekaphol or Ekkapol Janthawong. and nickname Ek.
A member of the stateless ethnic Shan of the Tai Lue minority in Myanmar, coach Aek hopes to become a Thai citizen. Ake is the assistant football coach of the Moo Pa (Wild Boars) soccer teams in Mae Sai, northern Thailand, for the group of age 11-15 y.o. boys. He was born in Myanmar and lost his parents at a young age. As a stateless man he can not yet gain his full coaching qualifications.
He was once ordained as a Buddhist monk and since leaving the monastery, at age 20 went back to lay life to care for hisailing grandmother. He is said to be good at meditation and is believed to have taught techniques to the boys, which will have helped in their cave ordeal. Head coach Noppart Khanthavong told him to bring some of the boys from the older team to help him in his custodial role, hence the range of ages among the trapped students, according to a Facebook post.
He splits his time working as a temple hand at a monastery and training the Wild Boars. He often took the team on adventures, cycling up mountain roads or swimming in waterfall. Coach Aek was the boys' only caregiver for 18 days. Thai Navy Seals have credited him for helping to keep the boys alive and calm by teaching them to meditate to conserve their energy. He also provided them with sustenance by telling them to drink water dripping from the cave's walls and forgoing his share of what little food the team had.
He apologised to the parents for taking the boys into the cave but the families have said they don't blame him. Media reports have suggested that he was the weakest of the group because he refused food so that the boys may have it. In theory he could be charged with a crime for taking the boys into the cave but a government spokesman said that "no-one is talking about that."
Ake, was the last person pulled out of the cave on Tuesday July 10th. Ake was devoted to his young charges, and often took them for long bike rides in the hills. Although some have criticized him for leading the children into the cave, all the parents and the community has rallied behind the former monk and community worker. "He loves the football team, Wherever he goes, he always has some of the kids with him. Their parents trust him that he can take of their sons."
He has said that the lack of status of some members of the team had often deterred the team from traveling to away games - and will prevent some of his talented players from becoming professionals unless they acquire a nationality.
From Aek to his family
|"To my aunt and grandmother, I am fine, please don't worry about me too much. Take care of your health. Aunt, please tell grandmother to make pork crackling with dipping sauce for me. I will go and eat when I get out.. Love to everybody."|
From aunt to Aek
|"I'm waiting for you in front of the cave. Don't think too much. Take care of yourself. No one blames you. Grandma, brothers/sisters, relatives and I are waiting for you in front of the cave. I urge you to keep fighting. I'm cheering you up. Grandma, brothers/sisters and I miss you. No one blames you. Many people are giving you moral support. Keep fighting. I love you. Bring all the brothers (i.e. the 12 boys) out. Keep fighting."
From Aek to hthe boys' parents
|"Dear all parents, we all are fine. The [rescue] team is taking care of us very well. I promised that I will take the best care of the boys. Thanks for all support and I apologise to all parents."|
From the parents of the boys to Aek
|"We believe in you and your spirit that you've been taking a good care of our kids. We just want you to know that this is not your fault. We want you to rest assured that no parent is upset or angry at you. Everybody supports you. Thank you very much for taking care of our children. You went into the cave with our children and you must get out with them. Take our children and yourself out with safety. We are waiting in front of the cave."
Dear Coach Ek (Mr. Ekapol Chatarawong),
The parents of every children have asked you to take care of our children. Please, don't blame yourself for this. We want you to rest assure that every parent is not upset or angry at you, and everybody understands and support you. Thank you very much for taking care of our children. You went into the cave with our children, and you must get out with them. Take our children (and yourself) out with safety. We are waiting in front of the cave.
Fotos from: Thai Cave Rescue, Thai Rath & Facebook: Ekatol