Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie Reveals the Kindest Thing Anyone Has Ever Done for Her

The Eternals star and longtime advocate reflects on two-plus decades of humanitarian work

In the middle of unthinkable hardship and atrocity, Angelina Jolie has witnessed incredible grace and generosity. In fact, it was while visiting the Syrian border that a young girl shared one of the few items she still had.

“This little girl came up to me and offered me some biscuits that she had in her pocket,” Jolie says in the new issue of People, now on newsstands. “Knowing what she’d come from, knowing what she was heading into, knowing everything she’d experienced, yet in that moment she wasn’t thinking of herself or everything she had lost. She wasn’t sitting with self pity. She just saw me—I must have looked tired and she just walked over and thought to just be kind. That’s what makes human beings so wonderful.”

In her two-plus decades of advocacy and humanitarian work, Jolie, 46, has gotten an intimate look at the effects of war and extreme poverty. With the number of displaced people around the world at a staggering 82 million—a number that is expected to double in the next several years—Jolie has vowed to not only continue her work as Special Envoy to the UN Refugee Agency, but is also committed to finding solutions.

angelina jolie

“My spirit has benefited, my life has benefited, from being allowed to be in the company of people who are surviving very difficult things,” she says. “It’s been a gift to me. I don’t like the idea that it’s some burden, that it’s so nice of somebody to go out of their way to help somebody else. It’s not. I don’t ever see this idea of charity.”

The Eternals star says one of the most valuable lessons she ever learned was from an Afghan grandmother. “She was raising her grandchildren because her children had been murdered and she was in a refugee camp,” she says. “I remember I started to cry and she said, ‘I don’t need you to cry, I need you to help me.’ That was a big lesson. The thought that sitting and feeling sorry for somebody is this luxury because you can be in your feelings and they don’t have that time to feel sorry for themselves.”

When she first started traveling with UNHCR, she says, “I realized there are people around the world who want their lives to be dedicated to helping others, finding solutions for others, being a part of the world with each other. It changed my perspective. I just wanted to be a part of the real world. And I wanted to have a life of some meaning.”

Around the same time, Jolie adopted her son Maddox from Cambodia and has maintained a deep connection with the country. Her largest effort has been the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Project, run entirely by local staff serving and supported by their communities. “It’s a foundation set up in one of the areas of Cambodia that was most affected by the conflict and genocide (in the late ’70s, by the Khmer Rouge, led by brutal dictator Pol Pot),” she says. “We started out nearly 20 years ago, removing landmines from the ground so that local people could return to their homes.”

She continues, “Today we help protect a large area of tropical forest in the Cardamom Mountains (southwest art of the country) that is threatened by illegal logging and land encroachment. And we fund two clinics and 16 healthcare staff, serving thousands of patients a year, as well as six primary schools and one secondary school. We also run a women’s empowerment program.”

Angelina Jolie; Know Your Rights: and Claim Them

More recently, Jolie and her daughter Shiloh worked with a top conservation organization in Namibia, the Naankuse Foundation, to create Shiloh’s Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is primarily a safe place for elephants and rhinos that have been injured or orphaned due to poachers. “They have recently had to move different animals because of the desert expanding, the lakes drying up,” she explains.

This year, her efforts have been focused on two big projects: the book Know Your Rights, aimed at helping vulnerable children around the world, including the U.S.; and the Violence Against Women Act, which led to a visit to Washington D.C. to lobby lawmakers and the White House.

For Know Your Rights, which is on sale everywhere, Jolie collaborated with Amnesty International. “Children are on the front lines of the struggle for human rights today,” she says. “We want to ensure every child knows and understands their rights, and how to claim them. It’s intended to be a practical guide. It was written for young people and the stories of youth rights activists we consulted are the bedrock of the book. We wanted the book to be open and honest and not to pull punches. That’s why I wrote at the start some adults won’t want young people to read it.”

She adds, “I hope that this is a book that might inspire a conversation between parents and children. And that it might remind governments that child rights are as real as those of adults.”

angelina jolie

In September, the advocate traveled to D.C. to meet with White House senior staffers, including Press Secretary Jen Psaki, as well as legislators to urge them to reauthorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act, which was first championed by then-Senator Biden in 1994 and signed into law by President Clinton.

“I am asking for protections for children in the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, which is currently in the hands of the Senate,” she says. “There’s a child health emergency in our country, caused by the hidden effects of domestic violence. I’m asking for trauma care, training for judges and non-biased forensic evidence collection all to be included in the act.”

Ironically, despite being on the cover of PEOPLE’s Kindness issue, Jolie says, “I don’t think of myself as a kind person. Generosity of spirit, I think that’s a better way of putting it. When you go to sleep at night and you feel like you’ve been of use to another human being, whether it’s your friend, your child or someone, that’s a life worth living.”

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