Audrey Hepburn was more than an icon or an actress, she was more than an activist/philanthropist, she said “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” and “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other” which is what this memorial stands for, that those who were lost in the the Sewol disaster is a reminder of how precious life is but also that nothing lives on stronger than someone’s memory.
On April 9th in Jindo, South Jeolla Province, a solemn commemorative ceremony took place, to mark the completion of the memorial forest honoring the 304 victims who lost their lives in the 2014 disaster, the Sewol ferry sinking. The same disaster that put a stop to Korea’s way of life as they tried to understand how such a catastrophe could take place, especially on a large majority that were only children. It made parents hug their kids a little tighter at night, made teachers appreciate their students, families and strangers become a nation, and revealed haunting photos of empty seats. Life stopped but as Audrey Hepburn’s two grandchildren, 21-year-old Emma Kathleen Ferrer and 20-year-old Adone Hofer Ferrer shared in this heartfelt speech on behalf of their father Sean Hepburn Ferrer, who originally proposed the construction of the forest, attendees all wore yellow ribbons across their hearts as they delivered the heartfelt speech:
“Instead of flowers, we are dedicating a forest. Just as trees grow stronger with time, so we hope the Sewol is never forgotten.We wanted to reach out and help heal the indescribable suffering the family members of the Sewol victims are experiencing,sown with seeds of life and love, we hope this forest will give comfort to the victims’ families and be a space of memory for the public. Flowers may wilt, but forests do not. The trees in this forest grow stronger and mightier over time, so that this incident is never forgotten,” they said.
Everything about this memorial holds a detail that is significant to the sinking, the forest is planted on a hill in the village of Baekdong, which is located in the Imhoe township of Jindo County at a distance of exactly 4.16 kilometers from Paengmok Port- which is significant because it marks the date of the sinking which is April 16th, 2014. The Ginko trees were chosen because of their life-span of a thousand years and yellow tinge, reflecting the message of remembrance and commemoration.The “Memory Wall” is shaped in the Korean letter for “S”, which stands at an approximately 416 centimeters. On the surface the names of the victims were etched on along with messages of love and commemoration. It also has a little plaque which was about the purpose of this forest, names, and donors.The top portion is divided into 304 furrows, one for each and every victim- bearing messages of grief, pain, longing, and waiting.
Designer and architect Yang Su-in added, “I hope the people who see this forest and the wall will confront the facts of the Sewol tragedy.”
After the ceremony, over 100 attendees came together and tied yellow ribbons on over 300 Ginko trees that were planted recently. The memorial was first proposed just last year right on the first anniversary of the unspeakable tragedy by human rights activist and the son of the late Audrey Hepburn, Sean Hepburn Ferrer who runs the social enterprise Tree Planet and the group 4/16 Sewol Families for Truth and a Safer Society by Hepburn Ferrer. Once the plans were set in stone, an online fundraising effort had an outpour of donations of 2,985 in South Korea and across the globe, the funding reached to nearly 212 million won (US $184,000), double their reported goal.
This forest will not only be a memorial for the Sewol ferry victims, but it offers parents and families closure that their children, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews will live on and continue to grow. No one wants to lose someone no matter what. We always have this idea that everyone will live forever even though we age and we change over time, the idea of not seeing someone you’re so used to seeing suddenly is gone. Personally, it reminds me of the saying that people are either for a lifetime or a season but if you noticed those that were here for a season made the biggest impact that seemed as though they would be here for a lifetime and that alone breaks your heart because you will never see them accomplish or struggle so you can cheer them on or save them. This memorial makes it possible, their souls will live on still giving, they will give shade to those that need it, they will allow you to breath them in, give shelter to birds and their families. Their memory alone has just achieved more than others would ever with the simplest and honorable things in life.
For those who plan to visit Korea, please come visit the memorial forest it would mean a lot to the victims’ families and is certainly a beautiful forest.
Edited by: Morgan Oswald
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