During their season of The Bachelor, Ben Higgins and Lauren Bushnell memorably bonded on an extravagant date: they hung out in a hot tub in the middle of nowhere. But this month, the couple got closer in a place where some people don't even have easy access to clean drinking water: Honduras.
Higgins has worked with the Humanity & Hope United Foundation for years, even wearing a bracelet supporting the nonprofit during his time as Bachelor. The group's aim is to help locals develop sustainable change to make their lives better: creating farms that will bring jobs, sending kids to school and more. In November, for the first time, Bushnell joined him on a trip to Honduras with the foundation.
"It's hard to put words to," Higgins tells ET of sharing the experience. "I watched her play with kids … invest in their lives, and honestly, it made my heart soar. It was a beautiful thing for me to see; to see the person that I love going out of her comfort zone at times and loving on people she's never met."
Higgins,28, has been going on trips to Honduras for 10 years, five of them with Humanity & Hope. He says this one felt different. "Seeing poverty is not easy, but for one of the first times I've seen what Humanity & Hope has done to uplift people out of poverty," he says. "And the joy and the health of the kids and the adults there really left me feeling like what we were doing was making an impact."
Part of that impact is thanks to Bachelor Nation. Bachelor producer Elan Gale has helped Higgins coordinate T-shirt sales to raise money for the organization. Higgins says the first round of sales raised $27,000 and helped supply a drinking well to a local village, giving residents six months of clean water so far. Plus, fans are becoming active participants. Higgins is close friends with H&H co-founder Riley Fuller, and says Fuller recently told him that 80 percent of people taking trips to Honduras with the group are women – most finding out about it thanks to social media and The Bachelor. "This is a reality show, but the show is also impacting real reality," he says.
Gale's help also meant sending children to school, and some are becoming the first in their village to get an education beyond sixth grade. "We were there for their [sixth grade] graduation," Higgins shares. "One of the girls stood up and spoke on her dreams. She said, 'A year ago, I thought sixth grade was it for me and I was preparing to make tortillas and wait to have kids -- and that's what my life looked like. And now I dream of being a lawyer and supporting people that don't have a voice.'"
Bushnell says the experience was, in a word, "changing."
"I was kind of hesitant to go down because I'm a planner and like to know exactly what I'm getting myself into, and I've never really been to a developing country," she admits. "[These kids] taught me more lessons in a week about kindness and positivity and attitude then I think I've really ever learned in that short of a period of time."
The lifestyle blogger says when she saw the work firsthand "the puzzle pieces just clicked," and she understood why Higgins has been so involved. "They're not just handing people things or leaving and never coming back," she says of H&H's staff and supporters. "It's all about sustainability, creating an economy [people] can be proud of, and it's their hard work that they see the results of."
Next up for Higgins and Bushnell is another uplifting project – they helped a local Colorado woman with a home makeover. The results will air on the Nov. 22 episode of their Freeform show, Happily Ever After?