Thirteen years ago, with her career in high gear after winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Girl, Interrupted, Jolie went to Cambodia for the filming of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The movie made her a box office star, but more important for her, meeting the people of that war-ravaged country and seeing their hardships was a call to action. She has said that her life did not really begin until Cambodia.
Jolie contacted the United Nations to find out how she could help, and soon she was participating in missions with UNHCR field teams. As a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, and as Special Envoy to UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, Jolie has met with refugees, officials and relief groups in over 30 countries to help the displaced and publicize the adversities they face, and lobby for international assistance.
Jolie founded and continues to fund the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children, which provides free legal aid to young asylum seekers in the United States. She created Kids in Need of Defense, formed in partnership with Microsoft, which helps children who enter the U.S. immigration system alone. She also created the Jolie Legal Fellows Program, which facilitates child protection efforts in Haiti and educates Libyans on understanding their rights as citizens. And she created the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which funds education for kids affected by war or natural disasters.
In 2003, Jolie continued her support of Cambodia by creating the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, named for her Cambodian-born son. In addition to supporting the country's conservation efforts, the foundation's scope has expanded over the past decade to include agriculture, education, health care and infrastructure.
The Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which the actress founded in 2006 with her partner, Brad Pitt, has donated millions of dollars to such diverse causes as efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and the tornado that ravaged Joplin, Missouri; children's health centers in Ethiopia and Cambodia; the N/a'an ku sê Foundation in Namibia; GlobaL Action for Children; the HALO Trust; and Doctors Without Borders.
Jolie has also used her film career to illuminate important issues, and in 2011, she made her directorial debut with In the Land of Blood and Honey, which depicts the horrors of the 1990s Bosnian war. The film centers on the relationship between a female Bosnian Muslim prisoner and a male Bosnian Serb army officer, but also shows the violence and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Inspired by her work on In the Land of Blood and Honey, and intent on helping warzone rape victims and their families, Jolie joined forces with U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague last year to raise awareness about the use of rape as a weapon in war. Following their presentation at the 2013 G8 Foreign Ministers' conference in London, 119 countries – over half of all UN members have endorsed a Declaration of Commitment to end sexual violence in conflict.
Despite the tragedies she has witnessed on a frequent basis, Jolie maintains a focused, positive attitude toward effecting change. While visiting a camp on the Somali-Kenyan border in 2009, she said, "A refugee woman, living nowhere, raising five kids with no food, does not need me to cry. She isn't crying. She needs me to go find some solutions for her." And that's exactly what Jolie has tried so passionately and so tirelessly to do for millions of innocents around the globe.