Bedrooms of the remembered

Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters

When the Sewol ferry sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014 it claimed the lives of more than 300 people, the vast majority of whom were students from Danwon High School.

Reuters photographer Kim Hong-Ji photographed the scene and has since been in touch with relatives of some of the students, visiting their homes and taking pictures of the bedrooms of those who died in the disaster.

Kim approached the parents through a group called 4/16 achievements, the name derived from the date of the accident, 16 April. "This community group had been trying to collect children's belongings given by their families as a way to remember those who lost their lives," says Kim.

Twelve families agreed to take part, each one wanting to be pictured standing with their loved one's belongings.

"They stood calmly in front of my camera but I felt it was like a protest combined with deep sorrow, calling for their children not to be forgotten," says Kim.

"Even so it was very hard to take these photos.

"I didn't want to hurt the family members so I tried my best to respect their emotions. Some of them are still extremely sad, others are still very angry about what happened. That's not easy."

Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Shin Jum-ja (right) and Jung Soo-beom, mother and younger brother of Jung Hwi-beom. Shin said "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."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Huh Heung-hwan (right) and Park Eun-mi, the parents of Huh Da-yoon in their daughter's room in Ansan. Park said: "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, 16 April 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."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Eom Ji-yeong, the mother of Park Ye-ji 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".
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Lee Sun-mi, mother of Kim Ju-hee said: "A thorough investigation has to be conducted. Spring has come and flowers are blossoming, but moms 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."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Kim Mi-hwa, mother of Bin Ha-yong, said: "As I see the children, they are all pretty and precious. All of them had dreams. They could have become a president, a minister, a famous artist. It's a tremendous loss for our country."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Jung Bu-ja (right) and Shin Chang-sik, parents of Shin Ho-sung. Jung said: "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."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Lee Hye-kyung, mother of Jeon Hyeon-tak, said: "Hyeon-tak's body was discovered on 1 May. 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. Hyeon-tak, thank you for the life you spent with me."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Ahn Myeong-mi, mother of Moon Ji-sung, said: "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."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Kim Youn-sil, mother of Jeong Cha-woong, said: "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 any more. I want to move abroad, if my oldest child feels OK with it."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Kim Young-lae (right) and Kim Sung-sil, parents of Kim Dong-hyuk. Kim Young-lae said: "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."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Kim Yu-jeong, mother of Jeon Ha-yeong said: "I wish our country could make us feel like it is protecting us. I want to tell Ha-yeong's younger sister about my proud country but I can't 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."
Image copyright Kim Hong-Ji/reuters
Image caption Jung Hye-suk, mother of Park Sung-ho said: "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 recurrence of this disaster and to build a culture that cherishes human life. Our children didn't blame society. They tried hard to save each other's lives and worried about their families. Don't we have to learn from the efforts they showed in the last minutes of their lives?"

Photographs and interviews by Kim Hong-Ji, Reuters.

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