Olivia Wilde's New Passion Project: Helping Ebola Orphans

"I'm struck every day by how fortunate I am as a mother to be able to give my son the care that he receives," says Wilde

Photo: Esther Horvath/FilmMagic

Olivia Wilde had several projects premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, but there was one she was particularly passionate about: Body Team 12.

The short documentary – which she coproduced with humanitarian filmmakers David Darg and Bryn Mooser – follows Garmai, a Liberian who rounded up dead bodies at the height of the country’s Ebola crisis.

Every day at the peak of the crisis, Garmai and her team of body collectors would suit up in protective gear and remove corpses from houses for cremation. Exposure to the deadly disease wasn’t the only danger associated with her job: She and her son were even ostracized because of the health risks involved.

“She went through unimaginable horrors at the height of the outbreak and saw things none of us would ever want to see. And the really tough part about the job wasn’t just that you’re dealing with the tragedy of so many dead people, it was the resistance from the families, as you saw in the film. You’re dealing with bodies and the people that you’re taking the bodies from want to kill you,” director Darg, who was on the ground in Liberia filming the documentary, tells PEOPLE. “Can you imagine any more of a high-stress job?”

Despite the dark times she powered through, Garmai’s spirit never broke – which is one of the reasons the filmmakers decided to focus the movie on her.

“These ideas of resilience and hope and inspiration, bravery and strength, this was an opportunity to humanize that story and put a face to it,” says coproducer Mooser, “and to find out just one of those people who’s behind the hazmat suit and find out that there’s an extraordinary, incredibly beautiful woman who’s doing all this work for love of country and her family.”

Now that the Ebola crisis has abated, Garmai (and the filmmakers) have shifted their focus to another underrepresented group: the orphans left in the wake of the disease.

Today, Garmai is “working with a lot of the children that she came face-to-face with at their darkest hour. She was there carrying these kids’ parents away in body bags and observed their hearts breaking in front of them, and there was very little she could do at the time,” says Darg. “Now she’s going back to help those kids.”

Wilde says now is the perfect time for people to get involved with the cause.

“I think the thing with Ebola: Everyone immediately became nervous and thought, ‘This could be me,’ and personal fears trumped empathy,” says the actress and coproducer. “So the most important conversation at this point about the Ebola crisis are these orphans who’ve been largely forgotten by the international community.”

A mother herself (she and fiancé Jason Sudeikis welcomed son Otis last year), Wilde’s perspective has shifted a bit since expanding her family.

“I mean, I’m struck every day by how fortunate I am as a mother to be able to give my son the care that he receives, anything he can possibly need,” she says. “If I were sick and passed away, he would be well taken care of, and it strikes me just a little deeper now, having a family of my own, hearing these stories of kids and mothers around the world struggling.”

She adds, “It’s a human story that you can’t help but empathize with.”

More than 2,000 Liberan kids were orphaned by the epidemic, and Garmai is helping educate and feed 171 of them today. Learn more about the Ebola Orphan Project at visit www.ebolaorphanproject.com.

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