Olivia Wilde in Haiti: 10 Questions
Condé Nast Traveler – September 2012
Olivia Wilde is not just a pretty face. Yes, that’s a huge cliché of a statement, but seriously, she’s a philanthropic powerhouse who just co-founded a free secondary school serving the poorest in Haiti. That’s why she was chosen as one of Condé Nast Traveler’s 2012 Visionaries. We’ve got answers to some of the more pressing questions you’d like to know about Olivia—like what’s on her travel playlist and the one item she never travels without. Possibly cooler (and more proof of that pretty face, even in the high temperatures of Haiti), we’ve got three exclusive on-the-scene videos of Wilde just being a basically normal person—a normal person saving the world, that is.
What’s in your travel survival kit?
I travel light, big believer in bringing the minimum. It forces you to buy locally. I love scarves. In Haiti, they’re great sweat mops. Dresses that can be balled up and it doesn’t matter. For Haiti, bug spray and sneakers. And something the kids I work with will get a kick out of, like a Polaroid camera.
What’s on your playlist when you go to Haiti?
I love listening to Arcade Fire when I’m down there. They have such a deep love for the country, and I feel their songs capture the soulfulness and majestic beauty of the country.
What books do you recommend on Haiti?
Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder.
Tell us one thing most people don’t know about Haiti.
People think voodoo is a dark force. It’s not true. People also assume there is rampant disease and kidnapping. I’ve never felt unsafe, even in Cité Soleil, the poorest slum. I’m lucky to be working with a local organization because I get to see Haiti differently.
What’s the most beautiful thing you have seen in Haiti?
The people. And Jacmel. I first came to Jacmel when I was three [her parents are journalists]. I have no memories of childhood except Haiti. It spoke to me. I think it’s the most beautiful place in the world. And there are southern parts that are still very virgin, like Ile a Vache [an island off the southwest peninsula, near the town of Les Cayes].
How do you define action?
The crucial marriage of intention and commitment.
What’s your life goal?
To leave the earth a little more peaceful than it was when I got here.
How do you define success?
What’s your mantra?
If it doesn’t scare you, it’s not worth doing.
Why should we all take action?
Because apathy is inhumane, and in order to end the suffering we have perpetuated, we must all participate.
12 Remarkable Global Citizens
Olivia Wilde: Co-Founder of Haiti’s New Free High School
Actress and co-founder of the first free secondary school serving the poorest in Haiti.
At 28, she sits at the grown-ups’ table of philanthropy, using her hip status to inspire a new generation to fight for the poor.
By Frank Ockenfels with kids in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 28, 2012.
“I just had a great conversation with Bill Gates,” says Olivia Wilde, laughing at the improbability of that. But the truth is, these days the actress is rubbing elbows with philanthropic heavyweights from Bill Clinton to George Clooney, and of course Mr. Gates. She asked him for advice on how best to focus her efforts beyond Haiti, perhaps as a UN ambassador: “He said, ‘No, invest your time in Haiti and know your subject well.’ ”
When Wilde returned to Port-au-Prince this past spring, there was tangible evidence of her commitment: the Academy for Peace and Justice, the first free secondary school in the country. With funds raised by Artists for Peace and Justice, the school was built by Haitians in just two months and is run by the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, which has operated in the country for 25 years. In October, 1,200 students are expected to be enrolled, most from Cité Soleil, the poorest slum. “We started so small,” says Wilde, “and this is such a grand gesture.” Classrooms carry name plates: Russell Crowe, Daniel Craig, Barbra Streisand, Sean Parker, Penélope Cruz—all of whom made pledges of support of $70,000 a year, usually for seven years. Wilde hopes to spark young activists. “I’m really excited about the next generation,” she says. “Philanthropy is no longer just for the rich.”
The Big Trip
“Cité Soleil in 2009. I had never seen poverty like that. But Haiti is also so beautiful—it’s important to remember that it’s not just about tragedy.”
Donate at apjnow.org.