Post courtesy of


Location: Vietnam

Date Of Injury: Unknown

(Original article 09/27/2015)

It was probably around 7 o’clock. My younger sister Nhi (8 years old) and I were studying in the living room. As a kid, I was a bit mischievous. My mom had a shop where she sold homemade candies to the neighborhood kids to make extra money, a little hut out in front of our house. I remember persuading Nhi to go with me to get some candy from my mother’s small shop. As Nhi and I walked to the store, we ran into my baby sister (Thương) who was only 3 years old back then. The two of them followed as I led them to the store. Unexpectedly, we ran into our mother, who was busy pouring gasoline into a small bottle. She does this to pour gas into my father’s motorcycle so he could drive to the local shop to purchase a portable electric bin that enabled my sisters and I to study at night. The village did not have electricity. The next moment happened so fast that even to this day, I still can’t believe it happened.

Nhi was holding a kerosene lamp and without knowing so, she leaned in and lowered the lamp to where my mother was pouring the gas. Just like that, the fire ignited. It was only a small fire at first but because we were so frightened by it, all three of us sisters ran back into the shop. Seeing her children inside the shop, my mother couldn’t bear to run out first. For the next minute or so, she covered us with her arms, telling us that it would be okay; Daddy would come and save us. The flaming fire kept blazing and heating up. We were stuck. I screamed. I couldn’t breathe. I was getting exhausted. I remember feeling my skin bubbling and peeling. I looked and saw my sisters desperately gasping for air. In that moment, I thought I was going to be trapped and die in that shop. Just when I was about to close my eyes and fall into that scary deep sleep, my father jumped through the fire and saved me. One by one, he ran in and out of that burning house and rescued my mother and sisters.

We survived but suffered tremendous burns. I remember hearing the screeching scream from my sisters. “đau quá, đau quá ba ơi.” Nhi was rolling on the cement crying with such awful pain. That night our lives shattered forever. I remember being on the ambulance and glancing over to see my mother. In her eyes, I saw the immense pain she was in. She cried out for help to stop the awful pain. At that moment, I did not feel pain. All I felt was guilt. Guilty that because of wanting to get some candy, I led my sisters to the shop and caused the incident to happen. Tears of guilt were rolling down my face as I looked at my mother and uttered “Con xin lổi, mẹ” – I’m sorry Mom.

Those were my last words to my mother.

I will never forget that night and that fire. For the first few years after the accident, I look at that night as a horrific tragic event that not only changed the course of my life forever, but also took away my dear mother. However, what I did not foresee was that it was actually a fire that set a rebirth for me. It ignited a new journey and brought me here to the United States in 2002. Needless to say, my experience growing up with severe third degree burns was a unique one, especially during the years of young adulthood when I began questioning my beauty, self-worth, and sexual attractiveness based on my scars. I thought that I was not worthy of love and affection. I didn’t feel “beautiful”. I remember in middle school and even throughout sophomore year in high school, I would wear long-sleeve shirts and pants and have my hair all over my face just to hide my scars. It was not until after I turned 18, starting college at UC Berkeley, that my mentality shifted greatly.

At UC Berkeley, I met many incredible individuals who helped me realize that my own beauty stretches beyond my physical appearance. Rather, what makes me uniquely beautiful was my strength to continue on with life despite all the pain and losses I encountered. By surrounding myself with positive, supportive, and loving individuals, I came to truly embrace the notion that it is perfectly normal to have physical flaws. I’m human. Everyone has some form of flaws or scars whether it is visible or invisible. Once I made that choice to accept myself holistically, I was able to focus on my academic growth and finding ways to advocate for my burn community. Thus during Fall 2012, I had a moment of self-reflection. I realized that I was not just a Cal student but also a burn survivor in higher education. That was something I should not take for granted. Therefore, beginning of that fall, I mustered up the courage and confidence to look into research opportunities that would allow me to study and spread awareness about issues in my burn community to the academic world.

In Spring 2013, my vision came true when I received a research opportunity through Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program at UC Berkeley. Through SURF, I conducted an independent research study titled “Exploring Young Adult Female Burn Survivors and Sexual Intimacy” to examine how the severity of young adult female burn survivors’ injuries impacts their comfort in engaging in intimate and sexual relationships. Ultimately, my work aims to provide insight into the lives of these survivors and offer intervention recommendations that will empower them to feel comfortable engaging in sexual and intimate relationships.

If you are interested, you can read about my research and findings here.

Furthermore, this photo shoot serves as another form of expression for my research. Through photos, I want to challenge not only my own boundaries of comfort and insecurity, but also empower other females to embrace themselves as a whole. I want to defy society’s normative perception of beauty. I realize everyone has insecurities and it’s tremendously difficult to overcome all of the self-doubts and be 100% confident. However, I believe in efforts and constantly challenging our thoughts and actions to become a more positive person than we were yesterday. This photo series was a personal challenge this year. It is a scaffold to remember to be bolder, fiercer. To embrace my sexuality, vulnerability, strength, and all that encompasses a female burn survivor. I truly hope through my photo and story, you’ll find your strength to heal and challenge your self-perception as well.

One Love,

– Huyen Kiki Vo