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"Please don’t forget our children,' I kept on hearing."
KIM HONGJI, REUTERS PHOTOGRAPHER
I will always remember the day, April 16, 2014, when I took photos of the ferry disaster.

Nor will I ever forget the reaction of parents in front of the bodies of their loved ones. I heard mothers crying when they saw the bodies recovered from the sea.

It was very distressing to take photographs of them at that moment partly because I had never experienced grieving that intense before.

Recently, approaching the first anniversary of the tragedy, I happened to meet a community group through a photographer friend. The group is called ‘4/16 achievements’, referring to the date of the accident and the achievements of the children up to the time of their death.

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.

I came up with the idea for this series of photos to mark the first anniversary when talking with members of this group.

Families of the dead had gathered in a square in central Seoul to protest, calling for an official enquiry into the sinking. I explained my idea to the people I met there. Twelve families accepted my proposal.

All of the relatives I met as part of this project wanted me to take photos of them standing in front of their loved ones’ belongings.

“Please don’t forget our children,” I kept on hearing parents say.

Before taking the photographs, I talked with family members for about 30 minutes and asked them to stand in their children’s room.

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.

Even so it was very hard to take these photos. I saw the eyes of the family member through my lens and I felt their deep sorrow.

It was an immense sadness I had to face when I took the pictures.

When I visited the first family, I saw a note that said, “Ha-yeong’s dream is to become an international aid worker” on a girl’s desk.

That prompted me to ask about other children’s ambitions during my visits to the families.

“As I see photos of the children, each and every one of them is pretty and precious,” said Kim Mi-hwa, mother of a boy called Bin Ha-yong.

“All of them had dreams,” she said. “They could have become a president, a minister, a famous artist. It’s a tremendous loss for our country.”

Her son talked about becoming an illustrator. I remember seeing the drawings left behind in his room.

Of the 325 students on board the sunken ferry Sewol, 250 never returned to their families. On that day a year ago, 250 dreams sank with them.

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