Heroes: Unsung Heroes of the Year
Liberia team leader
In Liberia, at the height of last year's Ebola outbreak, the situation was grim. By July, four months after Liberia's first reported Ebola case, all schools in the country had closed. By September, hospitals had run out of room—new cases were being turned away. It would get worse.
As health care facilities struggled to contain the outbreak and provide adequate treatment, surface water—in many parts of Liberia used for both bathing and consumption—became at risk for contamination. Safe drinking water was scarce. Bottled water prices skyrocketed, in some areas costing three times as much as in Monrovia, the nation's capital. And with some outlying roads too dangerous or poorly maintained to drive, getting clean water to remote villages became more and more difficult.
MAP International, a global Christian health organization, was working to provide aid. But for its Ebola response initiative to succeed, it needed someone on the ground.
Zeela Zaizay volunteered.
Zaizay, MAP International's country director for Liberia and a native Liberian, stayed in the country, working with a staff of four to deliver clean water. He repaired and maintained water systems in Ebola clinics to keep health care workers safe. He remained on the front lines during the outbreak, providing water and protective equipment to workers. And as a registered nurse, he administered medical aid where possible.
While the Liberian Ebola outbreak has since tapered off—from 300 cases per day at its peak to three a week as of February—Zaizay's work is far from over. "We are having an average now of less than one case per day," he said in an interview with Wired. "That shows we have made tremendous gains in the fight against Ebola. But the practices that led to the gains we are having are being abandoned just as the cases are declining too, so it brings about fear. If we are not careful we could have more cases again."
So Zaizay will keep fighting. "Zaizay was our eyes and ears on the ground during an unthinkable outbreak," said Katie Pace, public content specialist for MAP International. "Many times he risked his own life for others and lost many people that he himself cared about."
"His efforts have not only changed lives but saved the lives of numerous health care workers and patients," she added. "And for that we are eternally grateful to have such a sensitive and caring soul working for us."
associate vice president of operations
New Leash On Life USA
Norberto Rosa is associate vice president of operations for New Leash On Life USA, a nonprofit prison dog-training program that rescues shelter dogs at risk for euthanasia and pairs them with inmates—a sort of dual rehabilitation program. Rosa helps teach inmates to train and socialize the dogs, preparing the animals for adoption while providing employment opportunities for the inmates upon parole.
As part of the program's rigorous 12-week curriculum, inmates learn about everything from basic animal care to animal laws, dogfighting to puppy mills, and train homeless dogs under the guidance of a certified trainer. Rosa works directly with the inmates, attending classes and offering advice and guidance on life after prison. When Rosa tells inmates how the New Leash program can change their lives, they listen.
Because Rosa knows from experience. At age 18, he was sentenced to 12 years at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, a Pennsylvania maximum security prison. He'd been in trouble with the law since childhood—a judge told him at age 13 he'd be a career criminal. But in 2002, Rosa got involved in a prison program training service dogs, and after his release worked his way up from kennel attendant to manager of several animal shelters. Now, with New Leash On Life, he works with inmates before and after their release, helping them reintegrate into the community and find employment.
"Norberto has dedicated his life to helping these inmates succeed and to keep them from going back to prison. He is persistent and caring, but he also knows when someone isn't putting in the effort they should," said Linda Loi, associate vice president of resource development and communications for New Leash On Life USA.
"He spends time with those inmates and helps them break down their excuses to identify the problem, so that they can get back on track. He supports inmate participants in court and helps get them ready for job interviews. He knows what challenges they'll face and how to prepare for them," she continued. "When inmate graduates call him at night and ask for help, Norberto is there for them. He listens to their concerns and problems and gives advice. He reminds them that they can do it—because he could do it."
Related story: Heroes: Announcing the Winners of the 2015 Nonprofit Professionals of the Year Awards