A year ago Thursday, a ferry carrying 476 people sank off the coast of Incheon, near Seoul, South Korea, during a routine trip to the island of Jeju.
In all, 295 people aboard the Sewol perished, many of them high-school students and teachers who were on a field trip. Many of the bodies still have not been recovered.
Since the disaster, controversy has centered on the South Korean government’s response. Some argue the government attempted to whitewash its accountability in the incident; others have called for a thorough investigation.
Parents of the students who died in the catastrophe are still reeling from their loss a year later. Many still keep their children’s rooms intact to keep their memories alive. Reuters photographer Kim Hong-Ji visited their homes and documented the families and the rooms.
Huh Heung-hwan (R) and Park Eun-mi, the parents of Huh Da-yoon, a high school student who died in the Sewol ferry disaster. 'I haven't thought about anything but finding my daughter. I will never give up until I find her. For a year, every day was like that day, April 16, 2014. The times I laughed about trivial things have became precious moments. I thought living an ordinary life was the easiest thing, but I've realised it is the hardest thing,' Park says.
Shin Jum-ja (R) and Jung Soo-beom, mother and younger brother of Jung Hwi-beom, a high school student who died in the Sewol ferry disaster. 'Before the accident, my family talked a lot. Now we save our words, trying not to hurt each other. I am eager to see Hwi-beom just once. I wish I could hug him,' says Shin.
Lee Sun-mi, mother of high school student Kim Ju-hee. 'A thorough investigation has to be conducted. Spring has come and flowers are blossoming, but mums cannot smile. I hope the children who are still missing will be found. I wish I could bring back my daughter. The world after the tragedy is not the place that I had known,' she says.
Jung Bu-ja (R) and Shin Chang-sik, parents of Shin Ho-sung. Jung says, 'I was protesting, asking for an inquiry to find out the real reason why the ferry capsized. Some foreign tourists took photos of me. At that moment, I felt I was an alien, although I live in this country. All I wanted to know was the reason why the crewmen were all rescued but our children had to die.'
Kim Mi-hwa, mother of Bin Ha-yong. 'As I see the children, they are all pretty and precious. All of them have a right to be loved and have dreams. Losing these kids is a tremendous loss for our country,' she says.
Eom Ji-yeong, the mother of Park Ye-ji. Eom said, 'Every relic of our children is still there. I'd like to find them... I'd also like to know the truth and the reason why they were not ordered to escape the ferry.'
Jung Hye-suk, mother of Park Sung-ho. 'Good children have died because of adults' faults. The Sewol disaster taught us about the problems of our society and adults should make efforts to fix them, although it's too late. We have to strive to prevent any reoccurrence of this disaster and to build a culture that cherishes human life. Our children didn't blame society. They tried hard to save each others lives and worried about their families. Don't we have to learn from the efforts they showed in the last minutes of their lives?' Jung says.
Kim Yu-jeong, mother of Jeon Ha-yeong. I wish our country could make us feel like it is protecting us. I want to tell Ha-yeongís younger sister about my proud country but I canít these days. We, as adults, have a duty to protect our children. I hope our children grow up well and lead our country in a right direction,' she says.
Lee Hye-kyung, mother of Jeon Hyeon-tak. Lee says,'Hyeon-tak's body was discovered on May 1. How could I say even a word in front of such a deep sorrow. I don't have any passion for my life. I raised him with all my heart.'
Kim Young-lae (R) and Kim Sung-sil, parents of Kim Dong-hyuk. 'A thorough investigation is needed, and wrongdoers should be punished. This kind of accident might happen again, if we don't know why it happened,' says Kim Young-lae.
Kim Youn-sil, mother of Jeong Cha-woong. 'I feel so sorry for Cha-woong and miss him so much. Those children who stayed calm in the ferry at the last moment and worried for us were better than us. I don't have confidence in my country anymore. I want to move abroad, if my oldest child feels ok with it,' she says.
Ahn Myeong-mi, mother of Moon Ji-sung. 'My perspective on my country has changed. I thought my country was good. I prayed for it. However, after the disaster, I couldn't pray for a while,' Ahn says.
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