On June 8, 1972, a plane bombed the village of Trang Bang in South Vietnam, after the pilot mistook a group of civilians for enemy troops. The bombs contained Napalm, a highly flammable substance which killed and badly burned the people on the ground.
The famous black and white photo of children fleeing the burning village won the Pulitzer Prize and was chosen as the "World Press Photo of the Year"in 1972. It became the symbol of the horrors of the Vietnam war, and of every war’s cruelty to children and civilians.
The main figure in the photo is a 9-year-old girl running naked and desperate down the street after her clothes caught fire. Her name is Kim Phuc Phan Thi, and at the time she was participating with her family in a religious ceremony at a pagoda.
Recently Kim Phuc Phan Thi was interviewed on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the bombing. She said that after the photos were taken she collapsed to the ground and was rescued by photographer Nick Ut who brought her to the hospital. She was hospitalized for 14 months and underwent 17 surgeries.
I wanted to die that day, together with my family,” she said. “It was hard for me to carry all that hatred, that anger."
Despite the deep scars left on her body, she studied medicine and in her second year of university in Saigon she discovered the New Testament in the university library. She started reading. Thereafter she committed herself to following Jesus Christ and realized that God had a plan for her life. In 1997, together with her husband who is also Vietnamese, Kim Phuc Phan Thi founded the first International Kim Foundation in the United States, with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to children who are victims of war. The project spread and other centers were set up.
Her conversion to Christianity has especially given her the power and strength to forgive. Today Kim Phuc Phan Thi is 50 years old. She lives near Toronto, Canada, with her husband and two sons, Thomas and Stephen. She has dedicated her life to promoting peace by providing medical and psychological support to victims of the war in Uganda, East Timor, Romania, Tajikistan, Kenya, Ghana and Afghanistan.
"Forgiveness freed me from hatred," she wrote in her biography, entitled The Girl in the Picture. "I still have many scars on my body and severe pain on most days, but my heart is purified. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness and love are much stronger. There would be no more war if everyone were to learn to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness.
"If the little girl in the photo could do it, ask yourself, Can I?"