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Rainn Wilson: I believe in education, not handouts

updated 12:28 PM EDT, Mon October 17, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rainn Wilson is involved with two charities: the Mona Foundation and Planting Peace
  • He believes that education, not handouts, can change society for the better
  • Wilson on CNN Heroes: They don't complain, they just work on making a difference

Editor's note: Voting is under way for the 2011 CNN Hero of the Year. The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs live December 11 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. See the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011 and cast your vote at CNNHeroes.com.

(CNN) -- Actor Rainn Wilson is dedicated to improving the lives of young people around the world.

The star of "The Office" works with the Mona Foundation, which supports educational initiatives for children in developing countries. He is also involved with Planting Peace's program to deworm children in Haiti.

Wilson got to know Planting Peace's founder, Aaron Jackson, after Jackson was honored as a CNN Hero in 2007.

CNN's Sonya Hamasaki recently sat down with Wilson to talk about CNN Heroes and his humanitarian work. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Sonya Hamasaki: What inspired you to get involved with the Mona Foundation?

Rainn Wilson: The founder of the Mona Foundation actually knew my dad for years, and the more I learned about it, the more I realized I really found the perfect charity. It sponsors schools and educational initiatives all over the planet.

The thing that is really exciting is that it finds grass-roots educational initiatives that are already working, and the Mona Foundation comes in and says: "What do you need? We want to help support you. We'll raise money, and we'll get you whatever you need. ... You need a science lab? You need a water fountain? You need a soccer field? You tell us what you need. We're not going to come in and tell you what we think you should be having next."

It's a really cool way of working, and I've gotten to visit some of those schools. It's a beautiful organization.

Hamasaki: Why is this cause important to you?

Wilson: I think that charity is a tricky thing, because a lot of times, people equate charity with handouts. I don't believe in handouts. I do believe in education. And I do believe that the way to change a society, to uplift people -- not just their spirit, but to uplift their society and economic base -- is through education. That's what Mona Foundation focuses on.

It especially focuses on the education of women and girls. And I think that is key. ... With young women and girls, they're going to be ready to teach children; they're going to be ready to go back into their communities and share their knowledge with their children and with their communities.

It's vital that women and girls across the world have access to really good education.

Hamasaki: How did you get involved with Planting Peace?

Wilson: Planting Peace is a charity I got to know via CNN Heroes. I was literally sitting in my trailer at "The Office," and I was looking at the CNN website and it had CNN Heroes. And I saw this story on this guy, Aaron Jackson. I read about him there, and I Googled him and I did some more research, and I realized I stumbled upon a truly extraordinary human being.

This is a young kid from Florida who grew up on a golf course. He went traveling in the Third World and he saw poverty, and he decided to devote his life to making the world a better place. Planting Peace works at this in a number of different ways.

They support orphanages all over the world, but the other thing that Aaron works on with a network of people is deworming.

Parasites really hold a society back. When kids have intestinal worms, they have less energy, they're not able to focus, they're not able to learn. (Jackson) has these pills he gets from the drug companies that are a penny and a half each, and it'll deworm a kid for six months. And he has been working so hard, tirelessly, to deworm the children of Haiti. He's handed out millions of these pills.

Hamasaki: What's it like for you to see Planting Peace's efforts in Haiti?

Wilson: I've gotten to visit Aaron several times down in Haiti. They have four or five orphanages in Haiti. I also went out when they distributed the deworming medication out in the rural villages and towns, and I got to meet a lot of people in their network. It was very heartwarming, it was very moving.

They run an orphanage in Haiti for HIV-positive children; I think it's the only orphanage of its kind in Haiti. They're able to supply the meds that the kids need, they educate them, give them music classes. A lot of them are former street children, and they're turning them into vital members of Haitian society. It's extraordinary seeing that first-hand.

Hamasaki: How did your experience with CNN Heroes evolve?

Wilson: I think CNN Heroes is a great thing. I've been to the ceremony a couple of times, and I always follow it. It's incredible to see the amount of hard work and humility that these people have, uplifting the people around them.

Their stories are always the same: They're a normal person, they're doing a normal job, they're no one special and they see a need. They're like, "Gosh, there's street children here," or "these sex workers are being used," or "these veterans need a home," or "this environment needs cleaning up," whatever it is. And they don't just complain about it. They actually just start to work very simply. And that's what we need.

I think we need about 6 or 7 billion CNN Heroes, and we'll transform the world.

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