Please look at this picture - no more war

From a talk given at the Freedom Forum in London by Kim Phuc, the girl in this picture, 28 years after it was taken
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The Independent Online

I thank God for my life, my family, my friends and my photograph. I don't think I am wrong in saying that all of you here, when you first saw the picture, were taken by a certain thought. I have no doubt that all of you wanted to know "what happened to that little girl?" Can you imagine she is here with you tonight in person? I am with my very special friend Denise Chong, who helped me to bring my story together in The Girl in the Picture. I think you can see in that picture a bigger picture - the picture of history. You can also see the picture of love, hope and forgiveness. And I think that is great. I thank you Denise - you did a good job. I know it was hard to write this difficult story .

I thank God for my life, my family, my friends and my photograph. I don't think I am wrong in saying that all of you here, when you first saw the picture, were taken by a certain thought. I have no doubt that all of you wanted to know "what happened to that little girl?" Can you imagine she is here with you tonight in person? I am with my very special friend Denise Chong, who helped me to bring my story together in The Girl in the Picture. I think you can see in that picture a bigger picture - the picture of history. You can also see the picture of love, hope and forgiveness. And I think that is great. I thank you Denise - you did a good job. I know it was hard to write this difficult story .

If I could choose that nothing happened to me that day I would. I just want to have a normal life. Just like the moment before it happened. We had everything. We had a big house. We had a huge amount of land. We had a lot of animals and fruit trees around the house. That is wonderful for children. But everything was gone after that moment.

When I was running from the fire it was terrible. I remember that moment. I thought to myself as I saw myself on fire that no one would ever see me the same way again. I was so afraid. I came running out of the fire with my cousins. They were running faster than me as they were boys. They are now still in Vietnam and they have very difficult lives, of course. I haven't seen them in a long time.

I saw the picture when I came back from hospital. I couldn't believe that little girl was me. But I had to accept that truth. I defected to Canada on 15 October 1992. I wanted to have freedom and I wanted to make my own choices. And that is also why I have stayed in Canada.

I chose Canada because I wanted to escape. I wanted nobody to know me as that little girl. I wanted a normal life with my family and husband. I didn't really know about Canada at all. It was not a choice between Canada and the United States.

The Vietnam war was so wrong and made everyone suffer. But now I have no hatred or bitterness in my heart. I really want to let people know that war is wrong. But I cannot go back to 1972 to change that.

I often think about America. I think Americans are so lovely. I love them. You all talk about the little girl, but what about the soldiers? They go home and suffer also. But in a different way, an emotional way. I just want to move on and work for peace. This is my focus and purpose.

I am really happy that I was able to raise my children in a free country. And in a spirit of peace and love. Of course I share with them what happened to their mum, and they are very sensitive. At home I wear a short-sleeve shirt, and my son Thomas saw my skin once and knew that something was wrong with his mum. He had only just learnt to talk and he said, "Mum is hurt?" He kissed me, and I felt so special.

In 1996, I made my documentary The Road from Vietnam. Unesco phoned me and told me they were so moved by seeing that programme that they wanted me to be a goodwill ambassador for a culture of peace. I wondered how I could do it as I was just a mother. They explained to me that the picture told the story of war, and told me I could change the picture into a beautiful picture of love and forgiveness. They told me to just be myself - so I said I could do that.

Now I travel around the world and I really want to dedicate myself to working for other people and other children. Every time I turn on the TV or read a newspaper I know that wars around the world are going on. It makes me want to scream from a mountain: "That's enough! Please look at that that picture - No More War!"

I have set up the Kim Foundation as well - we want to help the children who are victims of war around the world. The next project of the Kim Foundation will be to help the victims of landmines in Cambodia.

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