Woman in famous Vietnam War photo visits Calgary as ambassador of peace
Kim Phuc Phan Thi is in Calgary for the 35th anniversary of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.
She is famous for a photo taken decades ago, but every time she sees it, it brings that day in 1972 back like it was yesterday.
“Every time I look at my picture I can see how hopeless I was, how terrified that little girl, and its painful agony, and I can smell the fire and smoke around me,” she said.
Phan Thi was in a group of children who were hit with napalm, a fluid that was used during the war which would inflict terrible burns. Her recovery took a long time, and she ended up coming to Canada to start a new life. She remembers the fear she felt during that experience too.
“I was one of them, 25 years ago, I came to Canada, I had nothing and traumatized and everything and I really needed help,” she said.
Fariborz Birjandian of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society understands that feeling. He was a refugee at one time, and is now a proud Canadian citizen. He said the society decided to bring Phan Thi to Calgary to speak at the 35th anniversary event because of how the society got started.
“The agency started actually in the mid-70s because of an influx of Vietnamese refugees, a handful of volunteers got together and they felt they had to do something to help the people that were coming to Calgary, there were not many services available at that time, it was just a new phenomenon for Calgary,” he said.
The society has grown to 300 staff and 1,700 volunteers since then, and has helped resettle 3,200 people in the last 16 years. Birjandian said the work they do is central to what it means to be Canadian.
“We are a large country, we are a rich country, we are a blessed country and I think we have to do our part to make this world better,” he said.
Phan Thi said she is proud to talk about her experience so that she can help raise awareness of the need to help refugees.
“Now I am so happy that during the time growing up and learning about life, I am so happy that I can work with that picture for good, for peace,” she said. “We never quit, we never give up, we keep going to work, even if it’s not easy.”
The anniversary event goes Monday, March 20th at Telus Convention Centre. You can learn more about the work done by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society here.