NEW YORK - Vietnamese girl burned by napalm focuses on forgiveness in helping U.S. military
Kim Phuc is known around the world for a photograph taken of her as a child, naked and crying as she ran down a road in South Vietnam, burned by napalm dropped by the U.S. air force, clouds of dark smoke rising behind her.
Now 52, Phuc is working with a new charity called Restoring Heroes to help provide medical treatment to members and veterans of those same U.S. military forces.
The twist of fate is far from lost on Phuc after decades of pain from burns suffered from napalm dropped on a pagoda where she and her family were hiding during the Vietnam War in 1972.
Restoring Heroes is targeting first responders and members of the military who have suffered traumatic burns and scarring, such as wounds caused by improvised explosive devices. The importance of forgiveness is Phuc's contribution to healing them.
"Everyone needs help," Phuc told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview when Restoring Heroes was launched this month.
While the napalm left burns on 65 percent of Phuc's body, she said her recovery was emotional and spiritual as well as physical, as she learned how to forgive.
"Living with hate and bitterness almost killed me many times," she said. "When I learned to forgive all those who caused my suffering, that was like heaven on earth for me."
She found forgiveness when she found Christianity, she said.
"Before, I would ask, 'Why me? Why did I have to suffer?'" she said. "I was a little child, innocent. I didn't do anything wrong."
Helped by her faith
Her religious faith has helped her to count her blessings and use her experience to help others, she said.
Phuc moved to Cuba from Vietnam, and now lives near Toronto, Canada. She and her husband, a social worker, have two sons.
She created her own charity, www.kimfoundation.com, to help children who are victims of war, and also served as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
"I can help people living with hatred and bitterness," she said.
Phuc said there was a time when she could not bear to look at the famous picture a war photographer took of her at age 9, an image that became a poignant icon for the conflict's suffering and ravaged victims.
Now, she said, looking at the picture makes her feel thankful.
"I realized that picture is a powerful gift for me to work for peace, to help people," she said. "That picture makes awareness to everyone to stop the war, to stop fighting."
Restoring Heroes is focusing on a form of laser therapy that Phuc has undergone to help with scarring, pain and range of motion on her shoulder where napalm clung to her skin and ignited.
The laser treatment promotes elasticity of the skin and the growth of collagen that acts as a cushion when amputees are being fitted with prosthetics, said Carol Novak, founder of Restoring Heroes.
Working for now in Miami, the charity aims to help 10,000 victims in the next three years, Novak said.