By Carl, Marsha & Eric Mueller and Reverend Kathleen Day
In August 2013, our daughter, sister and friend, Kayla Jean Mueller, was abducted following a visit to a hospital operated by the medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Aleppo, Syria. She was held in captivity by the Islamic State for 18 horrific months in the same prison as our three other American hostages and all the other western hostages, many of whom were released through negotiations. Kayla was held directly with three MSF staff members for six weeks. Kayla passed away on February 6, 2015, reportedly following the bombing of a location in Syria where she was being held captive.
Our hearts still break for Kayla. Despite being a victim of war crimes, her powerful letters home to us during her captivity revealed a God given strength and conviction to do what she could to help others and herself survive. Kayla’s letters revealed a peace that has truly helped us continue on in hopes of one day bringing her home. This is where we must focus our time and energy.
We see signs of Kayla everywhere and will always believe she should be here. In Kayla’s room there are books, journals, musical instruments, hand paintings and sacred objects she had collected…there is little else. In our home office is a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) map that Kayla kept from at least her university days. We look at it daily. She believed in the work of Doctors Without Borders.
Kayla devoted her life to helping others. Kayla’s heart was for the innocent children thrown into a life they should never be in; for moms trying to raise them alone and for families that needed help to stay as one; and for the soldiers, reporters and humanitarian workers who have seen such horror as well. She wanted to help heal wounded hearts, minds and bodies bringing happiness and joy to all she could. It was this commitment that drove her to help victims in shelters near our home in Prescott, Arizona and to leave home for far away places she felt called to help. She spent her life working for those who needed it most, using her voice to amplify those of others, and standing in solidarity with people as they struggle for their own rights and dignity. Even in captivity, she gave comfort to the Yazidi girls held with her and others suffering around her. If there was work to be done in service to others, she did it.
To honor Kayla’s life and dedication to serving others, we established Kayla’s Hands, a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation. As she wrote to us in a letter, “I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”
Today, on the second anniversary of Kayla’s death, we are announcing that we will be dissolving our family foundation and donating $120,000 to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to establish an endowment in Kayla’s memory.
The balance of the funds in Kayla’s Hands will be distributed to other organizations Kayla would be passionate about including Iraqi Bridge/Dr. Mirza who continue to work on behalf of the Yazidi victims of genocide, Save the Children who continue to work to save the Syrian children and children throughout the world, the Syrian American Medical Society/SAMS who continue to work on behalf of Syria’s war victims, Folds of Honor to provide educational scholarships to the families of America’s fallen and disabled service members and to the Kiwanis Club of Prescott who faithfully work “for the kids”. These and others will be listed on the Kayla’s Hands website.
The endowment at Doctors Without Borders, which we are so very thankful for, will be used to support medical and humanitarian aid programs operating in nearly 70 countries and providing care to more than 8 million people every year affected by armed conflicts, epidemics, as well as natural and man-made disasters. By donating to Doctors Without Borders, we can ensure Kayla’s legacy of healing is continued and that her spirit will remain out in the world. This gesture is a reflection of Kayla’s heart.
The endowment remains open to additional donations. Individuals or institutions interested in making a contribution need only indicate that the funds are to be directed to “Kayla’s Hands – the Kayla Mueller Memorial Endowment Fund” when making a donation to Doctors Without Borders. Our hope is that this endowment in Kayla’s name will continue to grow with new support and from those who have generously supported it in the past. We know Kayla would want every penny to go toward any and every effort that seeks to meet the ever growing demands of this unsettled world, bringing the medical and humanitarian help needed with kindness and goodness, carrying Kayla into the world wherever they go.