Pain and grieving—how storytelling is helping me through it (Nayzak).

Yesterday I wrote about my encounter with four outstanding people in my quest to connect with others who might share their thoughts on pain and grieving.

My walk around the UT Austin campus led me to my second encounter.

Meet Nayzak.

Nayzak is a Muslim UT Austin student studying International Relations and Global Studies and Sustainability Studies, seeking to pursue an international humanitarian aid career exploring science, technology, and the environment. This day she was working in her capacity as Volunteer Coordinator of United Mission for Relief and Development. They are in the midst of a campaign to provide psychological support for Syrian immigrants living in Jordanian refugee camps.

At UT’s “West Mall” near the student center is a beautifully shaded promenade that always features students mulling around tables set up to promote different causes. As I passed by a table marked “United Muslim Relief”, I was stopped in my tracks by this young woman and her enchanting eyes. As a portrait photographer, I always seek to take shots where light creates a sparkle in the subject’s eyes. Nayzak’s eyes didn’t need a bounce, a reflector, or a flash. They couldn’t help but sparkle.

Her greeting was as friendly as her eyes. I stopped, explained that I am a professional portrait photographer and storyteller on social media, and proceeded to tell her about my loss last week of our precious Yellow Lab Travis. She of course was empathetic, and welcomed me to capture her portrait and ask her a few questions.

I told her that as my life goes on, I am more aware spiritually that pain can’t be negotiated away, but rather is something that we can have a relationship with. And, that pain and grieving can be a catalyst to a deeper relationship with our Higher Power.

She smiled, wholeheartedly agreed, and held up her arm.

“Verily with hardship comes ease”, Nayzak said. This verse from Koran has comforted her for years, through tremendous hardship.

It’s hard to believe that ten short years ago this beautiful student with such a promising future was one of many refugees escaping war, desperate for a new start in life.

She continued: “All faiths believe life is a test. The very word “test” means inherently difficult. Embrace pain and hardship because they are a reality of life.”

“Just look at us here,” Nayzak said. “The pain of the refugee experience has brought us all together even here in this little spot on the UT campus.”

She went on to tell me about being at this same spot on Easter Sunday, alongside Christians. She said the students of different faiths were actually promoting one another’s causes.

Thank you, Nayzak. Your perspective and kind eyes were a healing to me during a tough time. Bless you and your bright future.



I wanted to pass along this email that Nayzak sent me, explaining their upcoming charitable event:

Hi Joe! It was great meeting you on West Mall at UT today! My condolences for your recent loss. Thank you for taking the initiative to go out there and channel your pain productively, this is a wonderful message! 

As we discussed, what we were doing today was to spread awareness about the United Mission for Relief and Development’s Rise for Refugees fundraising dinner this Sunday, April 28th! All funds go toward our campaign to provide psychological support for Syrian immigrants living in Jordanian refugee camps. This is the event page and the info gives all the details about the cause along with a link to purchase tickets and donate to our Launchgood campaign

Thank you again for taking on this project! Have a wonderful rest of your week.


Nayzak Najm
Volunteer Coordinator
United Mission for Relief and Development

Joe Van Wyk
Austin, Texas

#yourstorymatters #street portraits #visual storytelling #mindfulness #streetphotography #joevanwyk