Elizabeth Olsen on Volunteering in Nicaragua for the Latitude Project
The actress explains why she spends her vacation time in Nicaragua refurbishing schools and improving latrine systems with The Latitude Project.
Three years ago I booked a trip to Nicaragua for a yoga retreat, which got canceled at the last minute. I decided to go anyway, and I'm glad I did because I met The Latitude Project founders Jenn and Alanna Tynan in the little town of San Juan del Sur.
The Tynans were working with impoverished local communities that needed infrastructure support, so I went with them to visit these areas and ended up volunteering in a school to repair desks and update the athletic equipment. I learned that Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and each year The Latitude Project chooses a different community to partner with on a big initiative, which could be anything from building a preschool to improving access to latrines.
Jenn and Alanna empower the community by fully involving everyone in the task at hand. Residents know that if they don't show up to work then the project won't get done. The locals take so much pride in it that they are motivated to maintain these structures and systems after the Latitude team leaves. Everyone knows the Tynan sisters as the hermanas. There is so much excitement around their presence because they have set a tone of trust and intimacy.
This past fall I went on my second trip to San Juan del Sur and visited a new community. This area didn't have any electricity, so we distributed solar lights. Because I'm not fluent in Spanish, the best way I can communicate with the people is physically—I play kickball with kids or act like a clown just to make them laugh.
We're all on the same level, and it's important to remember that. For individuals who want to make a big impact, consider donating to a small nonprofit like Latitude (visit thelatitudeproject.com for information). Since it has no overhead costs, you'll be able to see the direct effect of your contribution. Plus, you'll walk away with new friends.
VIDEO: Elizabeth Olsen's Beauty Transformation
Before I left Nicaragua, the kids I worked with asked, "When are we going to see you again?" Of course I'll be back, so I responded, "Próximo año," which means "next year."