Belle Liang | Making Meaning in Malawi

Belle_charcoal3_2It is time to make space for another voice — a lovely voice.

Belle Liang (who I met through my friend Jane — go systergy!) is a professor at Boston College, and an expert on youth mentoring. In 2006, Belle's students launched an outreach website Generation Pulse, a place where high school and college-age students can come to discover their pulse, their who they are, by telling their stories.

Belle and her husband David, an adult internist and pediatric physician, have for several years been involved in relief work, work that has shaped her “faith, vision and sense of purpose”. In the below essay poem, Belle tells of her encounter with two Malawian newborns, one who dies, one who lives.

May you be as moved as I was.


beauty and death

Our minds spin with the contrasting images of Malawi.
The dirt roads, goats and dogs wandering, huts with thatched roofs,
the faces, sweet faces, some laughing, and watching us
others crying, looking away, quietly dying.
Most of all, I remember the singing voices of youth praising God
just like angels from heaven.

Two babies are born, perfect and pure.
Disease attacks and now they are dying,
the first one in the arms of her grandmother
who has very recently buried her daughter.

As we witness this mystery of suffering
we try to revive her AIDS stricken body.
We watch her chest rise and fall so deliberately
gasping her last breaths, at four in the morning,
she dies.

We are sick with despair as she fades away in this dark hospital
and her grandmother is all alone and cannot cry.

God, why?

And just as hope is fading,
the other baby arrives gasping her last breaths
but she lives.

Not only lives, God has special plans for her
to bring a doctor thousands of miles
to save her.

Oh what mercy and grace
that one tiny life counts.

And so we have no answers
just a veiled sense
that despair and hope live side by side.

There is a link between death and beauty
for it is the splendor of living that so ignites our mind's eye
that makes us more conscious of death.

It is despair in this place,
that causes us to long for,
and rejoice at Hope's arrival.


Just beautiful.

Thank you Belle.

What part of your life have you yet to make meaning of? What story is waiting to be told? Through word, music, painting, drawing?

Belle's story seems to be a metaphor for moving to a both/and mindset? What are your thoughts?

About Belle Liang
Belle Liang, an education professor at Boston College and a national expert on youth mentoring, is the author of numerous papers and several new measures for the study of qualities underlying growth-fostering peer, community and mentor relationships. In an upcoming book, First Do No Harm: A Call for Ethical Guidelines in Youth Mentoring (Harvard University Press), she and her colleagues synthesize the research on youth mentoring in ways that are accessible to practitioners not in academia.

Liang and her students also recently launched an award-winning Web outreach project created for and by young people called GenerationPulse that has received hundreds of submissions in its first year.


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