Perry Maddox, a University of Richmond alumnus, is the chief operating officer of Restless Development, an organization that is teaching and empowering young Sierra Leoneans about how to most safely manage the outbreak of Ebola in their country.
Maddox graduated from Richmond in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in international studies, political science and Spanish. He did a semester abroad in Argentina that “set the hook” for his career in international development, he said. He is now living in London.
Restless Development is built to do long term poverty reduction and youth empowerment in Africa and elsewhere. Their mission is to place young people in their own communities at the forefront of change and development, Maddox said.
“We’re not a relief organization by design, but we found ourselves at the heart of an Ebola response,” Maddox said. He knew his organization had an ethical responsibility to respond to the outbreak, because Restless Development has deep access and reach in Sierra Leone and is trusted there, he said. Curtailing the outbreak of Ebola has a lot to do with behavioral change, which is Restless Development’s emphasis, he said.
Steve Thompson, associate professor of management at the Robins School of Business, is not involved in Restless Development but has a background in healthcare and policy. “This is the kind of situation where you’d expect an educational initiative to be highly effective, because Ebola is hard to catch,” Thompson said. “If you do the basic things and just know when to step back and let the healthcare professionals deal with it, that goes a long way towards stopping the spread.”
Ebola broke out in West Africa in March, Maddox said. It wasn’t until August that Ebola cases really began to accelerate. “In June our volunteers were in placement and increasingly hearing about Ebola in their communities, and we realized we needed to do something so we called in our volunteers … and trained them in Ebola messaging,” he said.
“At that stage, shockingly, the government still wasn’t quite moving and the international community wasn’t moving very quickly on [it], so we were seeing a massive unmet need in basically education and empowering communities,” Maddox said.
Maddox said social mobilization was key to hamper the spread of Ebola. It is important to be able to treat patients after they have contracted the disease, but it is equally important to empower the millions of people in West Africa to help prevent Ebola, he said.
This is why Restless Development trains only Sierra Leoneans to deliver the message. “You have to feel comfortable with the person delivering the message, and the people who speak the local language and know the customs,” Maddox said.
Restless Development teaches volunteers what to do if someone gets Ebola, manifests Ebola-like symptoms or dies from Ebola. They also train volunteers to look for the more than 5,000 children who have been orphaned or left behind already by the outbreak. They don’t give the children care but refer them to organizations that do, Maddox said.
“The real point behind this is that it’s co-developed,” Maddox said. “We’re empowering a fourth of the population [of Sierra Leone] to protect their own communities by spreading the knowledge of what you can do.”
In situations that are as scary as an Ebola outbreak, people tend to panic because they don’t know exactly what is going on, Thompson said. Therefore, information systems do a great job of lessening a panicked reaction. “When people talk about disaster preparedness, one of the single most important things they focus on is education,” he said.
Restless Development focuses on training people under 25 because, “globally, half the world is under 25 and in the developing world it can be over 60 to 70 percent of the population that is under 25,” Maddox said. You relate to people who are like you, so young people, along with their passion and energy for the cause, are the best messengers of sensitive information in the developing world, he said.
“That whole line about the young people being the leaders of tomorrow doesn’t really apply,” Maddox said. “They need to be the leaders of today.
“We’re not going to stop Ebola by putting up walls. We’re going to stop Ebola by helping West Africa do it.”
To learn more about Restless Development, visit http://restlessdevelopment.org/.
Contact staff writer Katie Mogul at firstname.lastname@example.org