What ever happened to “the girl in the picture?” HealthDay News recently ran a story on Kim Phuc Phan and her recent visit to the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors where she shared her story of recovery and hope. Phuc, now 46 years old, is known for being snapped by a photographer as she ran down the streets of Vietnam naked. Phuc was only 9 years old at the time but that one photograph would change her life and she would be forever known as “the girl in the picture.”
In 1972, a bomb hit Phuc’s village in South Vietnam. A photographer, Nick Ut, captured Phuc as she ran from Cao Da temple while her little body burned. Though most of Phuc’s family survived she would spend the rest of her life suffering with extreme physical pain. So badly was she burned that skin graft from her thighs were placed on the burned areas of her frail little body. She underwent 17 operations and had to endure excruciating physical therapy. “I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way.” Phuc suffers from this extreme pain even today.
Amazingly, the same little girl captured in the famous picture so many years ago is now an inspiration of hope to millions. Today Phuc is a motivational speaker; child welfare advocate, peace activist, and Goodwill Ambassador who often visits burn units sharing her story. Many know her as an inspirational figure but few know how she gained the strength to use her pain to affect others.
A few years ago Phuc shared her story titled, “The Long Road to Forgiveness,” on the National Public Radio under the section, “This I Believe.” Phuc shared how she became bitter when she wasn’t allowed to live out her dream of becoming a doctor. The government wanted her instead to be a symbol of the state. “I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times,” she said.
But it was during this difficult time in her life that Phuc searched for a reason to live. She would spend days in the library reading through religious books when she came upon the Bible. In Christmas of 1982, Phuc became a Christian, which she has said helped her to forgive. “Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.”
In some ways Phuc has become the “Anne Frank” of Vietnam, a voice of hope in the midst of tragedy. Today Phuc inspires not only for surviving but also for her unusual perspective on her trauma. “The pain I consider as my protection. It humbles me, and helps me to never take my life for granted. And to share my story.” A powerful word from a woman, who has seen, lived and felt pain but is using it to for a greater cause.
To learn more about Phuc and the Kim Phuc Foundation International, you can visit the site at www.kimfoundation.com