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Vikings Free Safety and Sierra Leone Native Tackles Poverty and Illness Back Home

Pro football player Madieu Williams supports small health care victories in his homeland. He hasn’t lost hope that things can change.

Positive thinking: Madieu Williams has hope for poverty and illness at home

When Minnesota Vikings free safety Madieu Williams was nine years old, his mother, a nurse, would take him on her rounds through hospital wards. This was in his native Sierra Leone, a West African nation that is among the poorest in the world. There, he learned the importance, the necessity even, of giving. The Williams were poor, themselves—they lived in a ramshackle, two-story building that seemed forever in danger of collapse—but Madieu’s mother gave to others whatever she could.

It was a lesson her son never forgot. Madieu emigrated to America with his family, attended the University of Maryland on a football scholarship, and today is an extremely well-paid and key member of the Vikings defense.

Much of his huge salary is ticketed for others—in particular, those who live in his homeland. Some of the money went to opening a school outside Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown, in a district where there had been none. Last year, he donated $2 million to his alma mater to create the Madieu Williams Center for Global Health Initiatives. Its purpose is to research and implement new ways to improve education and health care in impoverished nations such as Sierra Leone.

Madieu returns annually to Sierra Leone to monitor the progress of his programs. Earlier this year he revisited the same hospital wards his mother led him through as a child. When a reporter asked him, “How can you be optimistic and hopeful in a place full of so much misery and despair?” Madieu answered, “Small victories, patience and time.”

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