LOS ANGELES, California — Angelina Jolie, an Academy Award-winning actress and household name, is often praised for her work in Hollywood. Yet Jolie’s acting acclaim is not her greatest contribution to the world; Jolie is a fantastic example of how those with power and influence can become great humanitarians and support the global fight against poverty.
Angelina Jolie’s Humanitarian Efforts
Jolie has dedicated over 20 years of service to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — the U.N. agency focused on refugees — and served as a Goodwill Ambassador for several years. During that time, she traveled the world to meet with refugee communities, from Yemen and Burkina Faso, and consistently advocated for international support for refugees and asylum seekers.
Although Angelina Jolie no longer serves in her U.N. position, she has continued two decades of humanitarian work in Cambodia through her non-profit, the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation.
Jolie first went to Cambodia while filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2000 and felt deeply inspired by the nation. According to the organization’s bio, “She [Angelina Jolie] was struck by the beauty of the country and the resilience, graciousness, and warmth of the Cambodian people.”
During her time on set in Cambodia she adopted her first child, Maddox. After his adoption, she established her organization and named it after him. The Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation focuses on “preserving Cambodia’s environment and supporting rural communities.”
The Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation
The organization’s first task was to create a safe environment for rural communities and set the stage for environmental protection through the clearing of landmines. Cambodia is one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in the world. In fact, about 4 million unexploded landmines were removed between 1992 and 2018. Landmines laid out by the Cambodian government and the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s and 90s have had devastating impacts on Cambodian civilians. While some landmines remain today, the efforts by organizations such as the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation have made a huge difference in making life safer for Cambodians.
After landmine clearance, the organization implemented environmental protections to support rural communities. According to the organization, “Our ethos is to support Cambodians as they develop their communities and protect their natural resources. Working in remote, post-conflict communities, MJP helps vulnerable families in rural communities to meet basic needs and access services in health and education.”
A key component of supporting Cambodian communities is the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation’s commitment to keeping their team 100% Cambodian. As a team with 100% local staff, understanding local issues and connecting directly with the community is central to their mission. Because the team members live in local villages, there are no issues around lack of cultural awareness, which allows an open line of communication between the non-profit and the rural communities they serve.
After efforts to clear landmines became less pressing, the group shifted its focus to six important initiatives: conservation, agriculture, education, women’s empowerment, economic growth and health. All of these deeply important topics are undeniably intersectional issues that rural communities in Cambodia have struggled with since the end of Cambodia’s violent conflict.
Current Situation in Cambodia
Currently, Cambodia is one of the most impoverished nations in Southeast Asia and remains one of the least developed countries in regards to consistent access to food, health and education. Approximately 17.8% of the country currently lives below the poverty line. Access to basic needs, sanitation and education improved in the past decade, but more progress is needed and non-government organizations play an important role in that.
Ongoing initiatives by the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation support the long-term health and prosperity of Cambodian communities. The foundation operates two health care clinics and a specialized maternity ward, and works to train teachers and young mothers on pediatric health practices. Recent initiatives established farmer training programs to help rural communities retain access to safe and nutritious food, as well as to make the best use of land and resources.
Additionally, the foundation operates two mobile libraries that travel around Cambodia with the tools necessary to fight illiteracy. Consistent access to educational resources is still an issue, especially in more rural or impoverished areas. To alleviate this, the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation supplies classroom materials and “works with 82 rural teachers in ten primary and secondary schools to improve teaching and school facilities.”
The Maddox-Jolie Pitt Foundation recognizes the intertwined relationship between environmental conservation and education, and works to combine efforts to improve both. The organization’s Education Coordinator and Conservation Team established the Eco-Ranger Club in schools to teach students about forestry, deforestation, biodiversity and waste.
These programs, among several others, demonstrate the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation’s commitment to supporting Cambodia’s rural communities through sustainable, culturally competent programs.
– Nikki Bayat