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Kwon Oh-hyun, whose younger brother didn’t make it off the ferry.
Kwon Oh-hyun, whose younger brother didn’t make it off the ferry.
Jason Strother

ANSAN — It's been over three months since the South Korean Sewol ferry capsized, killing 300 passengers onboard. It was a tragedy that sparked government reforms and national soul searching. But understandably, it's been much more challenging for the families of the victims, almost all of whom attended the same high school.

The temporary memorial that was created after the April 16 ferry disaster is a giant, air-conditioned tent with an enormous alter that holds framed pictures of the high school students who died when the ship went down.

Flowers have been laid out in front of them, and there are packages of food. A note from a mother of one of the children says that she hopes to see her son again one day.

Here, 27-year-old Kwon Oh-hyun points to the portrait of his younger brother, pictured in his school uniform. His name was Kwon Oh-chun, and he was 16 years old.

"For about 15 years, we shared the same room, even the same bed," Kwon says. "Right after he passed away, it was very difficult for me to sleep in that room. For about a week or so, I ended up sleeping in my car. I couldn't bear to go back into that room."

The memorial here in Ansan is the center of grieving for the entire country. It's also the place where the families of the victims come to try to find solace. Tents are set up outside that offer various services for these relatives. Among them, legal advice.

"The parents who come here want to know how they can get support from the government, especially for single parents or how to take their childrens' pictures down off of websites," says attorney Jo Ah-ra.

But Kwon Oh-hyun, who acts as a spokesperson for families of the Sewol victims, says many of the relatives need more than just legal advice. Following the accident, many quit their jobs. He says some just stay home and mourn. The government is helping, but it might not be enough.

"The government is giving us some living support and psychological counseling," he says. "But this type of help is limited. We only get two months of stipend. And the trauma counseling is only for one year. Does that mean we re supposed to feel better a year from now?"

Some might not feel closure until it is finally determined what caused the ferry to sink. Kwon says they hope that some answers will come during the pre-trial court hearings now underway.

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