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Iconic Vietnam War Child Brings Message of Peace

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

On only her second visit to the UK, Bolton School was privileged to host Kim Phuc, a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for peace and founder of the Kim Phuc Foundation.  She is best known to the world as the young Vietnamese girl photographed in 1972 fleeing down the road naked, her clothes having been burnt off by a napalm bomb, which was dropped over her village, Trang Bang.  The iconic Pullitzer Prize winning photograph has become synonymous with the Vietnam War.

Two hundred and fifty Sixth Form students from across the North West attended the event and were given a message of peace and forgiveness.  Kim reflected on her early life in Vietnam and on the moment that the napalm attack unfolded.  She had been a happy girl, always laughing and playing with her friends and had known nothing about war.  Nothing that is until, aged 9, on 8 June 1972, her village was attacked.  She recalled the aeroplane being incredibly loud and incredibly close and then she was running down the road with her skin on fire.  In the photo she was calling out "too hot, too hot".

The moment changed her life for ever.  Kim underwent 17 operations, the last one in 1984.  She had felt sure that no-one would ever love her because of her burnt skin and kept asking herself "why me?"  She carried a lot of anger in her heart but realised she had a choice, "either die of hatred or change my heart!"  Using Jesus' teaching of love your enemies, she has worked, through the Kim Foundation, to look after children that are victims of war.

In 1996 she attended the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial service in Washington and met up with Rev. John Plummer, a Vietnam veteran, who believed he took part in coordinating the air strike on Kim's village with the South Vietnamese Air Force.  He said his life had been ruined by the event but she gave him her forgiveness seeing that he too was a victim of war.  They remain good friends.  Kim sees forgiveness as being a choice - a way forward out of the circle of war and violence.  Her parting message was: "I came through the fire and I am blessed to be with you today.  We need to work together to extinguish the fires of war, to ensure peaceful futures for our children.  With compassion we can heal the world.  When you see the girl in the photo, think of her as calling out for peace."

The photograph was taken by Nick Ut, who still works for the Associated Press; Kim and Nick have become the best of friends and talk on a weekly basis.

Head Girl at Bolton School, Lucy Nolan, summed up everyone's thoughts when she said: "That was a truly inspirational talk and it will make all of us look at our priorities in a different light.  I think we will all take away something special from this experience."

Mrs Richards, Headmistress of the Girls' Division, said: "It was important that Kim spoke to young people during her first visit to the North-West, as the future is in their hands.  People in the hall today are tomorrow's leaders and it is important they go forward in life with the message of peace in their hearts and with an ability to forgive."

The pupils were from Bolton School Girls' Division, Bolton School Boys' Division, The Queen's School Chester, Withington Girls' School, Canon Slade School and Thornleigh Salesian College.  Kim was visiting the North-West for a few days as a guest of the Red Cross.

Kim brought along copies of her biography, "The Girl in the Picture", which were kindly donated to the School. 

View the iconic photograph and Bolton News story here.  Bolton FM are running a programme about the visit on Wednesday 24 March at 8.00pm with the Revd Brian Branche.

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Kim Phuc and Bolton Sixth Form students

Pupils from Bolton School, Canon Slade and Thornleigh Salesian welcome Kim Phuc to Bolton