|Messages of memory are put on desks in a mock classroom set up in the 4.16 Institute of Democratic Citizenship Education in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, to commemorate the Sewol ferry disaster victims, April 14, two days before the ninth anniversary of the tragedy. Newsis|
By Kim Rahn
During the past three years and more, she did not have a chance to go on school excursions or enjoy other travel opportunities with her friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So virtually it was her first proper overnight school trip.
While helping her pack and hoping she would have a good trip, I also grew excited at the prospect of having two free evenings all to myself. But at the same time, I was struck with a barrage of concerns, mostly about her safety.
What if a fire breaks out at the accommodation housing the students? Will emergency services be within reach? What if the building collapses? What if the bus taking the children has an accident on the highway?
These concerns may sound like an overreaction and even absurd. But in Korea, such fears, unfortunately, are warranted.
In June 1999, Sealand Youth Training Center in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, where more than 500 children were staying, caught on fire at night. The fire killed 23 people, including 19 kindergarteners. The center's staff had switched off the fire alarms "to prevent children from pushing the alarm buttons for fun," the fire hydrants and fire extinguishers did not work, and firefighters arrived at the scene 40 minutes after the blaze began because the center was not located close to emergency services.
In February 2014, an auditorium at Mauna Ocean Resort in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, collapsed due to heavy snow that piled up on the roof. Ten college students, who were at an orientation for freshmen, died and more than 200 others were injured. Although heavy snow was one cause, poor construction of the prefabricated structure was another reason.
Concerns about transportation safety are not new, as traffic accidents happen every day. But the biggest and most tragic accident involved students on a school trip to Jeju Island ― the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April 2014.
Nine years later, that accident still haunts the nation because it left a huge number of victims ― 304 died or went missing, including 250 students from Danwon High School who were on a school excursion to the southern resort island.
Those children, their families said, were excited about the trip, buying new clothes and asking their parents for pocket money to buy snacks to eat with friends on the trip, just like my child did. So the story of one victim and her mother ― the mother, after her daughter's luggage was retrieved from the sunken ship, cried holding the new clothes they had bought for the trip, but never got to be worn ― still weighs on my heart nine years after the tragedy.
When children go on a school trip, they and their parents never doubt that they will return home days later. But when things in life, which we take for granted, take a sour turn, the pain will be felt every day.
|A scene from the Japanese animated film, "Suzume" / Courtesy of Media Castle|
A similar sentiment runs through "Suzume," a Japanese animation that got its motif from the massive 2011 earthquake that hit eastern Japan. The animated film implies tens of thousands of people who left their homes telling their family members, "See you later," never made it back. The main protagonist, Suzume, who also suffered the pain of losing her mother during the earthquake, sets out on an adventure to prevent other disasters.
My various concerns and pursuant recollection of those tragedies have led me to think how grateful I am to have my family around me and have them return home every day safely. My daughter also returned home from the trip without any trouble. Of course immediately upon her return, she and I began to squabble over nothing as usual, but I know how grateful I should be that I can even have these silly arguments with her.
The writer is news division head of The Korea Times.