Kim Phuc Phan Thi poses in front of a plane bringing Ukrainians to Canada from Warsaw.
Tears streamed down Kim Phuc Phan Thi's face as she stood at the entrance of a plane meant to ferry Ukrainian newcomers from Poland to Canada last month.
This plane is adorned with a famous black and white photo of Ms. Phan Thi, taken when she was nine years old. Since the publication of this photo – one of the most important in the history of photojournalism – Ms. Phan Thi has been nicknamed the little napalm girl. She is seen, naked, screaming and running from fires caused by napalm bombs during the Vietnam War.
Kim Phuc, “The little girl with napalm” (Vietnam 1972)
The photo was taken 50 years ago. Today, Ms. Phan Thi is involved in humanitarian aid. She helps Ukrainians flee war in their country to find refuge in Canada, just as she did decades ago.
I remembered what happens to them. […] I have been there. I understand what they need, she said in an interview from her home in Ajax, a suburb of Toronto.
“ I am so grateful to be alive, to be there for them, to give them hope. »
—Kim Phuc Phan Thi
Ms. Phan Thi founded an organization years ago to help children affected by war. She is currently working to support new arrivals from Ukraine and hopes to participate in more flights similar to the one she took last month.
She explains that she received a email from a social justice organization requesting permission to use the famous photo on the exterior of their airplane.
Enrique Pineyro, pilot and founder of the Solidaire organization, had planned to transport more than 200 Ukrainians there from Warsaw to Regina.
Ms. Phan Thi and pilot Enrique Pineyro.
I said, “Wow, that's wonderful. We can work together,” Ms. Phan Thi said. Because that's the impact of [this] photo, even 50 years [later], isn't it?
Ms. Phan Thi, 59, gave permission to use the photo and asked if she could join the trip, a request that Mr. Pineyro quickly granted.
The trip, however, required careful planning.
Ms. Phan Thi is undergoing laser treatments in Miami to repair some of the skin damage caused by the napalm. His twelfth laser session was scheduled just days before he left for Warsaw.
I had to ask my doctor to do a lighter treatment, because if she treats me very deeply or very hard, I have to stay home for two months.
Mrs. Phan Thi was finally able to accommodate the 236 Ukrainians who boarded the plane.
I stood right next to my picture in the big plane. They were coming up the stairs, and I was there at the door to greet them, she recalls.
I thought to myself that at that time, yes, 50 years ago, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But now, I am at the right time and in the right place, to be there, to give hope to these people.
Ms. Phan Thi remembers well what happened. was captured in the famous photo. That day, South Vietnamese army planes dropped napalm bombs on the village by mistake.
She was playing outside near a bomb shelter with other children after lunch when a soldier suddenly shouted at them to run.
I' x27;saw the plane, it was coming so fast, it was so close and so loud, she says.
I stayed there. I was a kid, I had to run, but I didn't. I stayed there. Then I turned my head, I saw the plane. And then I saw four bombs.
A series of explosions rang out above our heads and flames erupted, she recalls.
Fire was all around me. And of course, my clothes were also burning. I saw fire on my arm. She recounts burning her right hand after trying to wipe the napalm off her left arm.
Then when I [came out] of the fire, I saw my brothers […], then I saw my two cousins, then South Vietnamese soldiers. Then we started running, running, running.
At one point, she got tired and shouted: Too hot! Too hot! She remembers a soldier giving her water to drink.
He tried to help me, he poured it out. water on me, she said.
I lost consciousness. I don't remember anything [after that moment].
The famous photo was taken by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut.
Nick Ut and Ms. Phan Thi in Los Angeles in 2013.
Ms. Phan Thi moved to Canada in 1992. She later became a mother.
I don't want my baby to suffer like this little girl, like myself when I was a child, she said. This photo really had a big impact on my life, and I consider it a powerful gift that empowers me to take action while I am still alive.
Ms. Phan Thi is UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and has spent years traveling the world giving talks and sharing her story.
She also founded the Kim International Foundation to support war-affected children.
Since the start of the pandemic, she has been devoting time to caring for her aging mother, who has dementia, and trying to #x27;helping her brother, who lives in Vietnam, obtain a visa to travel to Canada to fulfill her mother's wish to see him.
Ms Phan Thi hopes to support Ukrainian newcomers by sharing the lessons she has learned over the years.
I learned to live with love, hope and forgiveness, she says . We must work for peace.
With information from La Presse canadienne