Little Martunis was a carefree seven-year-old playing soccer with his friends when the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated his Indonesian home in 2004. And with the boy losing his mother and two brothers, his future, sadly, didn’t look bright. With the help of one of the world’s biggest sports stars, however, Martunis was able to pursue his lifelong dream.
On December 26, 2004, a huge earthquake triggered a catastrophic tsunami across the Indian Ocean’s coastlines. The resulting 100-foot-high waves proved totally devastating, wiping out communities across Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
One of the deadliest disasters the planet has ever seen, the tsunami took millions by surprise and claimed the lives of 230,000 people in 14 nations. The plight of those it affected henceforth sparked an international humanitarian response, with $14 billion in aid being raised across the globe.
It was further reported that up to a third of those killed were children; sadly, they were less able to resist the waves’ power. And, in total, the natural disaster impacted five million people; half a million, in fact, sustained injuries, while around 1.7 million lost their homes.
In the wake of the tsunami, many people were reported missing or displaced. And among those to be tragically separated from their families was seven-year-old Martunis.
The young boy in fact found himself completely alone after the waves had hit. And since he was stranded on an Indonesian beach for three weeks, Martunis was forced to drink from puddles and eat dry noodles to survive.
After 21 days Martunis – who was wearing Portugal’s national soccer jersey – was discovered by reporters. And, adding to the sadness of the boy’s story, as well as losing his mom to the violent waters, he had lost his two siblings.
As for himself, in addition to being severely dehydrated, Martunis had suffered bad insect bites and was dangerously weak. Indeed, had he been found just 24 hours later, he may well not have survived.
But survive he did – and then some. The youngster had, in fact, been playing soccer when the tsunami struck, and he later claimed that his love of the sport had helped him survive the aftermath. “I was not afraid at all because I wanted to be alive to meet my family and become a football player,” he said.
And following his recovery, aid workers were able to reunite the little boy with his dad and grandfather. Martunis’ inspirational story consequently captured the attention of the world’s press, and one of his idols, moreover, reached out to him personally.
After reading about Martunis’ ordeal, Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in the world, visited the child in Indonesia. Better yet, Ronaldo promised to pay for the boy’s schooling and part-fund the family’s expenses as they began to rebuild their lives.
But Ronaldo’s support didn’t end there. Just one year after the tsunami struck, the Real Madrid striker flew Martunis to Lisbon so that he could meet the rest of the Portugal team ahead of a 2005 World Cup qualifier against Slovakia.
After their meeting, Ronaldo told a FIFA documentary, “I believe that many adults would not even be able to deal with what he has gone through. We must respect him. His was an act of strength and maturity. He’s a special kid.”
True to his word, Ronaldo, alongside the Portuguese Football Association, helped rebuild Martunis’ family home. The boy was also sent to English lessons three times weekly and attended a soccer academy in Banda Aceh, the city where he grew up.
To boot, the soccer-mad little boy revealed in 2008 that he’d like to follow in Ronaldo’s footsteps. “My favorite hobby is playing football,” he said. “I don’t like other sports. It’s fun. My grandfather was a footballer. I want to be a footballer when I grow up.”
Martunis’ passion was also supported by Sarbini, his dad, who said, “I hope he gets a good job in the future. I will be very proud if he enjoys a good life or becomes a professional footballer.”
Amazingly, moreover, Martunis’ dream has indeed come true. In 2015, 11 years after his traumatic experience, the young hopeful signed for the youth academy of Sporting Lisbon, one of Portugal’s most famous clubs – and the one where Ronaldo himself began his world-class career.
On the club’s website, Martunis described his move as a “dream come true.” Sporting Lisbon president Bruno de Carvalho, meanwhile, said the academy would “work with him also in his development as a human being and as a man.”
Soon after beginning his career as a professional soccer player, Martunis was once again united with Ronaldo, too. What’s more, now the budding footballer regularly refers to the star as his inspiration.
Martunis currently plays for Sporting Lisbon’s under-19 squad. And it seems that he has settled into Portuguese life very well, too; indeed, in July he celebrated the country’s historic Euro 2016 win in a series of ecstatic social media posts.