‘Girl in the picture’ to receive honorary degree

Her terror will be forever preserved in time and has become a symbol of the horrors of war. The photograph showing a young Kim Phuc running naked down the road – her skin ablaze with napalm, her face contorted with pain and terror – changed the way the world viewed not only the Vietnam War, but all wars. The photograph, taken by photographer Nick Ut, won a Pulitzer prize for Ut and the loss of a lifetime of privacy for Phuc. From that moment on, wherever she travelled in the world, she would never escape the picture, the pain and the memories of the horror of the Vietnam war. Kim would always be recognized as the girl in the picture.


Left: The pain and terror of Kim Phuc (centre) is captured by Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Nick Ut

Instead of running from the pain captured in the image, Phuc has turned and embraced it. She has used her experience and her fame to champion the rights of children of war. York is honouring Phuc for her willingness to accept the fame associated with her image, her tireless dedication in helping children from war-torn countries recover from their emotional and physical scars, and for telling her story around the world in a bid to promote peace. On Friday, Oct. 22 at 2pm during the Fall Convocation ceremony, Phuc will receive an honorary degree from York University.

“Kim Phuc is a woman of tremendous courage, whose life story is proof that the human spirit can prevail in the face of adversity,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden. “York Convocation is a time to recognize the achievements of our newest graduates and to celebrate the contributions of individuals, like Kim, who have made a real difference in the world and in the lives of others.”

After taking the photograph of the screaming child, Ut rushed to help Phuc. He transported her to hospital in a desperate attempt to save the young girl who was so badly burned. Phuc was not expected to live. Third-degree burns covered half of her body, and she would require many operations and years of therapy. After two years, against all odds and with the help of doctors who were committed to her care, she was able to return to her village, where she and her family began to rebuild their lives. Phuc now lives with her husband and two young sons in the Greater Toronto Area, more than 32 years after her harrowing ordeal.

Phuc expressed her deep desire to give something back to innocent children of war, in thanks for all the help she herself received as a victim of war. The result was the establishment of the Kim Foundation in 1997 – a private charitable organization that is dedicated to providing funds to support the work of international organizations that provide free medical assistance to children who are victims of war and terrorism.

Right: Kim Phuc

Recipient organizations manufacture prosthetic and orthopedic devices for children; fit children with those devices; provide therapy, medication, wheelchairs and rehabilitative services; or help families, schools and other institutions find ways to support the efforts of disabled children to become full members of their communities.

As a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Goodwill Ambassador for the Culture of Peace, Phuc spreads the message of the need for reconciliation, mutual understanding, dialogue and negotiation to replace confrontation and violence as a means of settling conflicts.

In her address to those who attended the United States Vietnam War Memorial
Veterans’ Day 1996 commemorative ceremonies, Phuc said, “I just dream one day people all over the world can live in real peace – no fighting, and no hostility. We should work together to build peace and happiness for all people in all nations.”