Earlier this week it was confirmed that 26-year-old Kayla Mueller died as a hostage of ISIS. This horrific loss was felt by all Americans, and was enhanced by the details of who Kayla was as a person - a care giver, an activist, a risk-taker, and someone whose compassion for others took her to some of the most dangerous and unfamiliar places on earth. And it is this part of Kayla that her friends and family want us to concentrate on. Christina MacKenzie, who became friends with Mueller through the org STAND, said that Mueller’s “heart was everywhere.”
STAND is a student-run organization that works against genocide and similar atrocities, so it was the perfect place for the socially-conscious young women to meet. “Kayla was our Southwest Regional Outreach Coordinator (ROC) during the Fall 2009 semester,” MacKenzie explained. “As ROCs, we coordinated with chapters within our area to keep them up-to-date on STAND's programming initiatives, and to encourage chapter activities and growth.”
MacKenzie said the two of them hit it off and stayed in contact over the years. “There can be a lot of lofty and idealistic talk when you get a bunch of human rights nerds in a room, but Kayla always had a way of making her point-of-view and opinion so realistic and down-to-earth,” MacKenzie said. “From the minute I met her at our Leadership Team retreat and she talked about why she was involved in STAND, I knew that protests and fundraising would never be enough for her.”
Asked which issues were the most important to Mueller, MacKenzie said, “When we were in STAND, Darfur was definitely at the forefront of everyone's minds. But right after graduating, Kayla went to India (and then Palestine) to work specifically with impoverished children. She had a blog at the time (that was the main way I kept in touch with her) and though she only wrote a few posts, she always wrote passionately about the children and the communities she was serving, the differences in life where she was from, and how fortunate so many people in the world are when you consider the poverty others live in.”
And then Mueller had felt called to Syria, despite the dangers. “When the stories started coming out that Kayla was working with children affected by the atrocities in Syria, it made sense. She always wanted to help people, but she definitely had a special place in her heart for kids.”
The community at STAND won’t let people forget Mueller, or her charitable endeavors. They’ve created a new fund in her name, and the money raised will go to a charity her family chooses.
“Not everyone can be a humanitarian - and Kayla knew that,” MacKenzie said. “She knew the drive she had was different, and she was so non-judgmental when it came to people's activism. I think the greatest lesson to learn from Kayla and how she lived her life is that the simplest way to make the world a better place is by treating people well.”
MacKenzie knows that people might be overwhelmed by the news stories of violence and war, but encourages everyone to try to make a difference.
“We hear stories like Kayla's and think that we aren't doing enough because we're not going to the same lengths," says M acKenzie. "But the truth is we all have the capacity to be good, and we need to act on that. Be compassionate, always.”
“The other vital thing everyone can do is be informed and use that knowledge to cultivate compassion for humanity,” she continued. “Kayla knew so much about the world, she was so well-informed. The first day I met her she told me about going out in her community one day with the sole objective of informing people about Darfur. Not only was she shocked that people didn't know what was happening, but she was in total disbelief that people didn't care. When we were ROCs, Kayla's email signature included a quote from MLK - ‘History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of good people.’ For Kayla, silence and sitting still were never options, and we shouldn't let them be either.”
“She was so passionate and empathetic,” MacKenzie said. “I could physically see that she felt she had to answers the cries of the suffering in person. That is what drove her good deeds.”