The death of my mother was the turning point in my life. It made me realize that I did not want to waste my life doing meaningless things. Rather, I wanted to live a purpose-driven life, just like she did. At my mom's funeral, as I listened to everyone speak so highly of my mom, I asked myself, "If I were to die today, what do I want people to say about me?"
I was six years old when my father left Sierra Leone; a year later, he sent for my mother, and a year after that, my parents sent for me. I was eight years old when I arrived in the U.S. on September 23, 1993.
My parents wasted no time in enrolling me in school. I was tested at a fourth-grade level. Like most immigrants, I had a tough time adjusting to the English language. I made it my goal, after my first year in school, to be proficient in the English language as fast as I possibly could. With the help of my mother, I started doing crossword puzzles to develop my vocabulary.
My mother has had a huge influence on my life. My mom was a nurse and loved helping others. When I was young, I often teased my mother about the fact that she was always helping others. I even called her 'Mother Teresa'. She would laugh and tell me that some day I would understand. She was a huge proponent of education. Although I played sports, her concerns were always about my grades in school.
As I was trying to cope with the loss of my mother, I would take trips back to Sierra Leone during my off-season from the NFL. Each trip, I would visit with friends and relatives of my mother and they would tell me stories about her. I started to realize the needs of the communities in Sierra Leone, particularly something very close to my mother's heart -- youth education.
Being an NFL player affords me many opportunities that others might not have at my age. I wanted to use my current platform of being an NFL player to do something larger than myself, at the same time staying true to what my mother would do. I knew that if I could surround myself with supportive people, I could start to build schools in Sierra Leone. And that is just what I did in 2008. With the help of many, I built an elementary school and named it after my mother. I also started the Madieu Williams Foundation.
Education-wise in Sierra Leone, we were able to build an elementary school two years ago and are adding a secondary school in the next year or two. Along the way, we've provided teacher training, uniforms and school supplies for the kids on an annual basis. One of the things we've done on the medical end is a medical mission. I've partnered with another NGO, Healing Hands, here in the United States, to travel to Sierra Leone and perform surgeries free of charge for many of the children, men and women too poor to have those services. In addition, we bring in dentists for the children in my school, and the dentists we had last year were not only able to see every single child at the school, but their parents as well. We're looking forward to doing it again this year.
As I travel to Sierra Leone in the next few weeks, I will be able to take a look at the progress of our school, look at the future of where we can grow, learn from the mistakes we have made and soon teach others who are going down the same path.