On August 27, 2001 Angelina Jolie was announced as Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR in Geneva.
Angelina started field work for the UNHCR after becoming aware of the plight of refuges in third world countries, including landmines, while filming Lara Croft – Tomb Raider. “When I went to Cambodia for work, I was suddenly in a country where I saw it was a very big problem. We were restricted to where we could move or walk because of landmines. It was more shocking than anything I had ever seen and I soon became all too familiar with what agony and suffering land mines were causing”, says Angelina “I felt I should have been taught about the landmine problem. It made me suddenly realise certain things about the world and how much I had to learn, like the history of the people.”
It was Angelina who went to UNHCR looking for more information and seeing if she was able to help in any way. “I started to travel and realized there was so much I was unaware of. There were many things I hadn’t been taught in school and daily global events I was not hearing about in the news. So I wanted to understand. I believe in what the UN has always stood for – equality and protection of human rights for all people. So I read many books. When I read about the 20 million people under the care of UNHCR I wanted to understand how in this day and age that many people could be displaced.”
In February Angelina went on her first field mission to Sierra Leone and Tanzania where she stayed for 18 days and later reported that she was shocked at the lives of the refugees.
On April 16, 2001, Angelina helped raise money for a school in Angkor Wat, the Cambodian city where scenes of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were shot.
During June Angelina stayed in Cambodia for 2 weeks with her work focusing primarily on landmines.
During her work with landmines over various missions, Angelina worked very hard both on the field and through the media with her missions and at one stage even detonating a landmine herself. “I went with HALO, which is a great organisation. We were there in Cambodia. We were… in one field they were demining [where] they had found three different mines. At the end of each day they explode them, and they let me explode one”, says Angelina.
Working with landmines is extremely dangerous and the people involved become emotionally attached to the refugees involved. “You know in the middle of the night when I had to go use the bathroom in the bushes and was not really sure where the path was. It’s crazy the thought that you really don’t know, and for people to live like that all the time. And the young children, if they survive and they have lost a limb, their bodies are still growing so they have to go back quite often. They don’t have cars or local hospitals. It’s a big trek to go in and find somebody who will volunteer to refit you and shave the bone down. They are going to have that their whole life because they are growing. It’s a really horrible thing. For anybody that works in any kind of demining or any kind of humanitarian aid work, there is danger and it’s always a high-risk area” says Angelina.
Thankfully there are organizations that are devoted to helping the victims of landmines. “There’s an organisation – CVD, Cambodia Vision and Development – that works with vulnerable people; most of them are landmine victims. There’s also organisations too, like the Campaign to Ban Landmines. It seems impossible and probably would be impossible without the help of a lot of these organisations. Organisations like CVD put a lot of these people together so they can work in a group”, says Angelina.
“I’ve started to really become aware of the world we live in, what’s really going on,” Angelina says. “I think we should try To be responsible and educate ourselves. I’m simply doing that and traveling, learning first hand, and seeing first hand what’s going on.”
In August Angelina visited Pakistan where she donated $1 million to U.N. relief efforts. On the 27th of this month Angelina was announced as Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR in Geneva.
During the months of June and July after “watching closely when Angelina did her initial travels” the UNHCR approached Angelina and asked her to be an ambassador. “The Goodwill Ambassador title is never bestowed lightly. It was an invitation that came with a recognition from UNHCR that Angelina had already done significant work. The potential was there for a long-term commitment”, says the UNHCR.
“When they asked me to be ambassador, I was on a mission to Cambodia and was so grateful and flattered that they considered me to be part of the organization. The majority of UNHCR works so hard and are so dedicated; I was nervous to try and represent their work but was honored”, says Angelina.
For World Refugee Day Angelina also filmed a public service announcement video.
In September Angelina visited Pakistan once again and in November she and now ex-husband Billy Bob Thorton visited U.N on the Thai-Cambodian border, where thousands of refugees have been living since the end of the war in Cambodia in 1998.