Painting away the pain

Sophomore holds art workshop for mental health awareness


Photo by Kate Knauff

Sophomore Unaiza Khakoo poses with a jean jacket she painted. Khakoo will sell art pieces like this to raise money for an organization named Art From the Streets as a part of her Girl Scout gold award. “The gold award for Girl Scouts is the highest project you can do and the highest honor you can achieve,” Khakoo said. “In the project girl scouts are told to choose an issue they see in their community and find a way to combat it.”

As sophomore Unaiza Khakoo’s hands grip the paintbrush, she thinks about what her next piece will be. She listens to the steady swish of the paint against the canvas, and feels her stress slowly slip away.

To earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, Khakoo has started a painting class geared toward middle and high schoolers where she talks about mental health. She is also fundraising for an organization called Art From the Streets.

“Mental health is an issue, especially in teenagers,” Khakoo said. “It has been extremely important lately and has been brought to the attention of society.”

Khakoo has been painting since she was young. Recently, she has become interested in psychology because her mom took child psychology classes and her sister minored in psychology. 

“When I was coming up with ideas for my Gold Award, I knew I wanted to do something with mental health, but when I realized I could do something with art too, it all just clicked,” Khakoo said. “I knew it was what I wanted to do because it incorporated all of my interests.”

Khakoo joined Girl Scouts around the age of 5. She said she didn’t like Girl Scouts at first, but stayed in it to continue to spend time with people she wouldn’t get to outside of the program. She also enjoyed participating in all of the activities.

“I get to hang out with people that I’ve known for a very long time and do fun activities while also learning stuff,” Khakoo said. “One time, we had an etiquette class, but we were all joking around while still learning these skills. Camping is also one of my favorite things because you get to do a variety of activities and get to do something you normally don’t do.”

The classes are held on Saturdays at Falak Art Studio, where Khakoo goes regularly. For each class, Khakoo prepares an art piece that can be easily adapted to fit the needs of people with different artistic abilities. While attendees paint, Khakoo talks about different things that might cause stress, and she recommends some methods to release stress.

“I learned that mental health issues are more common than we think, and that there are many different ways people can relieve their stress and anxiety,” sophomore Ava Knauff said. “One of those ways is through painting, which I also learned a little about.”

Khakoo is also going to sell all of the art pieces she makes during the class, along with some other things, to raise money for an organization based in Austin called Art From The Streets. With the money she earns, she will buy supplies for the organization, which advocates for the mental health of the homeless population and gives them a source of income by selling the pieces they create.

“Unaiza is still in the process of her project, so she can determine what problems and solutions she has encountered, complexities of aligning volunteers, etc,” Unaiza’s adviser Marco Cosby said. “I believe Unaiza is passionate and capable to see her project through to completion, and will take away additional skills to help her throughout her life.”

The classes are mainly limited to five to eight people to keep the classes small and stress-free. She advertises her classes by sending out flyers as well as texting people she knows. She said she hopes people will learn stress-management skills they can use later in life.

“We are at the age right now where if we learn proper coping mechanisms and learn to manage our stress, they will last us a lifetime,” Khakoo said. “High school is stressful, but life also gets stressful, and it doesn’t get much easier, so learning how to cope with stress now is the best way to do it.”