Celebrating heroes: Angelina Jolie

Nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others

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Angelina Jolie in Chad, Africa ©Per-Anders Pettersson

It was International Women’s Day recently and it got me thinking about the inspirational women around the world. Malala Yousafzai, Angelique Namaika, Bogaletch Gebre, Edna Adan, Dafroza Gauthier…. women who you may not have heard of, probably because the don’t get much attention in the press and if there is an article about them it’s usually tucked away somewhere.

We unfortunately live in a celeb obsessed culture where people can become famous for doing nothing of value. Instead of promoting good role models we’re bombarded with selfies of skinny, ‘perfect’ looking celebs and taught that beauty is only skin deep.

There’s one ‘celebrity’ though that puts her money where her mouth is, using her insane amount of fame to make a big difference in this world.

Most people probably don’t know a lot about Angelina Jolie’s other life. The majority of what we read about her is the tabloid fodder about ‘Brangelina’. With this article I want to highlight the stuff we should be reading about and the stuff we should know her for.

It’s probably unfair to call her a celebrity because as well as being an Oscar-winning film star and mother she is also a humanitarian – in fact she spends more of her time devoting it to others, giving a voice to the voiceless, than she does to making films.

©Per-anders Pettersson

Angelina Jolie in Chad, Africa ©Per-Anders Pettersson

She has worked for the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) for over ten years now, working tirelessly to highlight the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in over 30 countries including Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti, Somalia and Thailand. On all of her field missions over the years she has covered all of her costs and shares the same working and living conditions as the UNHCR field staff.

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Her inspiration came from her own mother Marcheline Bertrand, a woman who never had an unkind word to say to or about anyone. On International Women’s Day in 2003, Bertrand produced a benefit concert for Afghan women refugees in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of which Jolie is now a Special Envoy. Sadly, Bertrand died in 2007.

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Jolie and her mother Marcheline

Jolie says about her mother that “she was very clear that nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others. I didn’t know what that meant for a long time,” she said. “I came into this business young and worried about my own experiences and my own pain. And it was only when I began to travel and look and live beyond my home that I understood my responsibility to others.” In November last year Jolie was awarded an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt award, for her humanitarian work.

Jolie’s acceptance speech

Here are some of the many reasons she’s an inspiration:

She puts her life on the line for those in need

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On a recent trip to Afghanistan she revealed that she had written a farewell letter to Brad Pitt after being warned she was a target for attack.

She explained: ‘I had moments where I’ve been in a house and people have pounded on the doors and screamed at you and said, “We know she’s in there and we want her passport,” and I’ve had moments recently when I went to Afghanistan, and I’ve got off the plane thinking, this is fine.’

‘And then I got there and they said, “The people are very angry with you. They are angry that you are a woman and you are American and you are with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), so you are the target”.

‘And so they gave me a briefing and they said everybody needs to write their blood type down.’

She added: ‘There’s a guy outside with a bulletproof vest, he put his passport in the vest, because he would be the one to take me out. I wrote a note to Brad in the process and figured if anything happens he’ll find it.

‘I was fine, but then two weeks later they did attack the UN and they killed everybody in the bunker.’

Angelina has set up and financed many charity organisations
Jolie in Ecuador ©Gettyimages

Jolie in Ecuador ©Gettyimages

In 2003, she founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (after her first son, Maddox, who she adopted from Cambodia) which is dedicated to community development and environmental conservation in Cambodia.

In 2007 Jolie joined forces with economist Dr. Gene Sperling, Director of The Centre for Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations, and founded the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which funds education for children affected by man-made or natural disasters. Of the partnership Jolie said “Education can make the difference between whether children of conflict can turn to violence and despair, or whether they become the can be the new leaders of a better future for their families and nations.”

In 2008, she worked with Microsoft to set up the Kids in Need of Defense, a group of law firms and volunteers who have committed to giving legal counsel for immigrant kids in the US.

She spends millions of dollars of her own money helping others

Both Angelina and Brad dig deep when it comes to charity, with the pair donating millions and millions of their own money each year. Records from 2008 show the couple gave over $8m to charitable causes and in 2009 they gave at least $7m.

Jolie and Pitt in Bosnia

Jolie and Pitt in Bosnia

When Brad and Angelina’s twins, Knox and Vivienne, were born the couple sold the first images of the babies to People and Hello! for $14 million, using the entire amount to help fund the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

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Last year Jolie announced that she had opened an all-girls primary school outside of war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan. The school educates between 200 and 300 Afghan girls, many of them refugees whose homes and villages have been destroyed in the years since the Taliban regime came to power. But now that the Taliban’s stronghold over the country has collapsed, people are hoping to resume normal life. Getting kids back to school every day is one way to do just that.
Jolie in Afghanistan

Jolie in Afghanistan ©Marco Di Lauro

To fund this venture, Jolie has released a personal jewellery collection, designed alongside jeweller Robert Procop, through Kansas City-based, high-end jewelry shop, Tivol. The collection is called Style of Jolie and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to her foundation, The Education Partnership for Children of Conflict.

jolie_Tivol_jpg_330x330_q85“Beyond enjoying the artistic satisfaction of designing these jewels, we are inspired by knowing our work is also serving the mutual goal of providing for children in need,” Jolie said.

“We launched this collaborative collection with the intent that 100 percent of the profits will go to charity,” Jolie’s long-time designing partner Procop said. “The beauty of these creations is matched by the beauty of spirit behind Angelina’s most heartfelt mission — to empower children in crisis.”

“Tivol, with their historic reputation and dedication to family values is a wonderful retail partner to launch our collection in the U.S.,” Jolie added.

If this business model proves successful, Jolie and Pitt, hope to fund more schools and educational initiatives in the places that need them most.

She uses film to educate about the horrors of war
Angelina Jolie directing on the set of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war in Bosnia. ©Dean Semler/FilmDistrict and GK Films

Angelina Jolie directing on the set of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war in Bosnia. ©Dean Semler/FilmDistrict and GK Films

Angelina used her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, to highlight the horrors of the war in Bosnia. The war lasted from 1992 to 1995 and around 100,000 people were killed with up to 50,000 women being raped and 2.2 million people displaced.

Jolie and some of the cast of the film received threats due to making the film. At the movie’s premiere in Sarajevo, she said: ‘There were things sent to me, there were things posted online. The cast have never complained to me about these threats but I’ve heard through other people it was happening. One of them did have their windows smashed in on their cars and someone else had an issue when their phone was hacked and emails were sent out saying they were from them and saying they had been hurt.’

She gets involved in politics – and not in a bad way

Recently Angelina joined forces with William Hague to raise awareness about the use of rape as a weapon of war in conflicts. Hague had watched In the Land of Blood and Honey at the urging of his senior special adviser, Arminka Helic, a Bosnian who fled to the U.K. in 1992 to earn a Ph.D. Hague was struck by the power of the film. “I started this campaign with Angelina Jolie because foreign policy has got to be about more than just dealing with urgent crises—it has to be about improving the condition of humanity,” he said.

Jolie and Hague at the G8 in London

Jolie and Hague at the G8 in London

In Rwanda, up to 500,000 people were raped during the genocide 20 years ago. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which Jolie and Hague visited a year ago as part of their campaign, there an estimated 200,000 surviving rape victims and the issue is still ongoing – it has in fact been called the ‘rape capital of the world’ and in 2011 it was estimated that around 1,000 women a day were raped. In Syria today there are thought to have been countless rapes but there are no approximate figures for this due to the taboo surrounding rape for Muslim women. Many do not report it or even tell their husbands or family.

They were recently at the G8 in London to talk about the £23million pledged towards tackling sexual violence in conflict zones around the world.

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Their campaign, called the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), aims to end the shame that victims feel as well as the impunity that often follows such crimes.

At the end of last month they visited Bosnia where they to raise the awareness of the scale of rape during conflict. About 50,000 women, mostly Muslim, were raped during Bosnia’s inter-ethnic war in the 1990s and so far only 33 people have been convicted for the crimes by local courts and 30 by a UN war crimes tribunal ate the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Between 10 – 13th June, Hague and Jolie will host a four-day summit in London that will bring together governments from 141 countries. They aim to create irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and promote practical action that impacts those on the ground (peacekeepers, police and the justice system).

Hague said that today “sexual violence is used deliberately as a weapon of war” in the conflicts in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan. He said: “I hope we can all work together to prevent the horrors seen in this region from being repeated in future conflicts anywhere in the world.”

She gives a voice to the voiceless

On World Refugee Day in June last year, Jolie did a report for CNN to bring to the attention the plight of the thousands of Syrian refugees. For many, being a refugee is like being in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, for you don’t know how long. Children in the camp suffer from diarrhoea, respiratory infections, high fever, ear infections and skin diseases, due to poor sanitation and hygiene. In winter the camps are constantly flooded due to rain and snow and in the summer the temperatures regularly top 100°F making living conditions in the dusty camp unbearable. Jolie yet again used her considerable fame to bring attention to a worthy cause.

She wrote about her double mastectomy in the hope that other women would benefit from her decision.

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When Jolie discovered she had the BRCA1 faulty gene, giving her an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer, she took the brave decision to have a preventative double mastectomy. She wrote a moving op-ed piece for the New York Times about her decision in the hope that other women would benefit from her experience.

Brad Pitt said of his fiancé – ‘She’s faced her problems head on and found out her options to make the smartest decision for her, and she’s shared that knowledge with everyone else.

‘It’s important that this testing is not available for everyone and it should be, and that there are surgical options and everyone should have these options.’

‘I always want her by my side. Life will go on and we’re taking care of business as usual. We’re on the other side of that.

‘It’s the bravest thing and I get a little emotional about the act she did for our family and telling her story to others. She’s a very special woman.’

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A Very British Appeal: 50 years of the Disasters Emergency Committee

Tonight at 10:35pm ITV will screen a documentary about how the British public, for the last 50 years, has responded with a huge amount of generosity to appeals made by the Disasters Emergency Committee.

DEC_logo_mainEvery time there’s a natural or conflict driven disaster anywhere in the world, 14 of Britain’s biggest aid agencies, including Save the Children, Christian Aid and the British Red Cross to name a few, come together as one under the banner of the DEC who then organise the emotional celebrity led appeals that we see on our TV screens, or hear on the radio. In the 50 years since this British charity began, they have raised over £1billion to help relieve hunger and suffering around the globe, from Ethiopia and Rwanda to Somalia and Syria.

The documentary tonight follows the charity through the last 50 years and 62 DEC appeals. Aid workers talk about lessons learnt from dealing with some of the worlds biggest humanitarian disasters and the presenter Rageh Omaar travels to Haiti where three years ago 220,000 people died during the most deadly earthquake in modern times. He gets to see for himself exactly how the £107 Million you gave to the DEC’s Haiti Appeal has been spent including a visit to a school rebuilt with DEC money.

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Rageh Omaar

The documentary also goes behind the scenes to follow the story of the DEC’s most recent appeal – Syria. From concept to launch, the DEC team attempt to raise the vital funds to ease the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of refugees currently fleeing the crisis over the border to Jordan.

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Traditionally conflicts never raise as much money for the DEC as natural disasters, but over the years the British have been very quick off the mark to donate their money especially during the Kosovo and Darfur crises and the 1984 Ethiopian famine.

If you’d like to watch the documentary it will be screened from 10:35pm until 11:35pm this evening on ITV.

If you would like to donate to the Syria Appeal you can do so by clicking here – http://www.dec.org.uk/appeals/syria-crisis-appeal

You can follow the DEC on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/decappeal

And on Facebook here – https://www.facebook.com/DisastersEmergencyCommittee

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World Refugee Day 2013: By the end of the year half of Syria’s population will be displaced

A Syrian refugee plays with her child in front of her family's tent in the Zaatari Syrian Refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan © Mohammad Hannon/AP

A Syrian refugee plays with her child in front of her family’s tent in the Zaatari Syrian Refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan © Mohammad Hannon/AP

Tomorrow (20th June 2013) is World Refugee Day, and with latest events in Syria it is now more important than ever to be aware of the plight of refugees.

There are currently 1,600,000 Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. Yesterday UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie was in Jordan where 540,000 refugees reside. She visited one of the camps to mark World Refugee Day and also “to show support for Syria’s refugees, to call on the world to address their plight, and to better understand needs in Jordan and other countries in the region most directly affected by this devastating conflict.”

51c163ce6“The worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century is unfolding in the Middle East today,” Angelina added. “By the end of this year half of Syria’s population – ten million people – are expected to be displaced and in desperate need.”

The UN recently launched the largest emergency appeal in their history for £3.2 billion. In the Zaatari camp in Jordan there are 30,000 children of school age living there but only two schools in operation which are full to capacity, teaching 10,000 children. They are building another school that will be able to house 5,000 children but due to a lack of funding there is no money for the teachers’ salaries or to run it full stop.

Children in the camp are suffering from diarrhoea, respiratory infections, high fever, ear infections and skin diseases, due to poor sanitation and hygiene. In winter the camps are constantly flooded due to rain and snow and in the summer the temperatures regularly top 100°F making living conditions in the dusty camp unbearable.

The £3.2bn currently sought by the UN is to cover refugees’ most basic needs and only until the end of this year – the situation is critical.

One U.N. agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), has delivered 500 million meals in Syria so far this year. “We have reached a stage in Syria where some of the people, if they don’t get food from the World Food Programme, they simply do not eat,” the WFP’s Syria Regional Emergency Coordinator Muhannad Hadi said.

Syrian refugee children walk after heavy rain at Al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq ©  Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

Syrian refugee children walk after heavy rain at Al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq ©
Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

The European Union last week promised 400 million euros, Russia and China have so far contributed $10 million and $1 million to the UNHCR. Although it is fantastic that countries all over the world are donating to the cause, the numbers from world governments still falls way short of what they need to survive. It is hoped with the Syria appeal that donations from the likes of you and me will help them reach their target so they can provide for the basic needs of the thousands of refugees streaming out of Syria everyday.

You can help by donating to the WFP here. Alternatively you can help by donating to the UNHCR’s appeal here – UK UNHCR – http://donate.unhcr.org/syria-uk or the Worldwide UNHCR – http://donate.unhcr.org/syria

£15 could provide two families with synthetic mats to prevent them from sleeping on the ground.

£30 can provide high thermal fleece blankets to keep a family warm during the bitter winter months.

£80 can provide kitchen equipment for eight families to cook warm food throughout the winter.

£300 can provide a tent to shelter a family from the harsh weather.

Angelina Jolie talks to to Syrian refugees in a camp on the Jordan-Syria border ©AFP/Getty Images

Angelina Jolie talks to Syrian refugees in a camp on the Jordan-Syria border ©AFP/Getty

To understand, on a tiny scale, what it must be like to be a refugee, I’d like to share a story from my post on World Refugee Day last year. Apologies about this but it is a story that has stayed with me ever since I saw it on the television series Equator several years ago.  The presenter Simon Reeve visited a refugee camp on the Somalian/Kenyan border and met a young girl, Fatima, who fled the dangers of her home country Somalia for the camp in Kenya. What really struck me was that she’d never travelled more than 4km from the camp. The Kenyan authorities wouldn’t let her go any further into Kenya and she couldn’t go back to Somalia so therefore had been trapped with thousands of other refugees in the camp for the last 17 years. In the programme, Simon Reeve talked about having a British passport and how he could go anywhere he wanted in the world yet the refugees are confined to what is almost a prison.

After visiting the camp, he said: “Thanks to an accident of birth, I was lucky enough to be able to leave to continue my journey around the world”.

The number of displaced persons around the world currently numbers 45,000,000 due to the ongoing conflicts in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali. In 2012 alone, 7,600,000 people became refugees, with the total number at its highest since 1994.

Thank you for reading,

Please, please donate if you can by following this link for the UK site – http://donate.unhcr.org/syria-uk or this link for the worldwide UNHCR page – http://donate.unhcr.org/syria

Visit the UNHCR here – http://www.unhcr.org.uk/

Donate to the World Food Programme here.

You can follow the UNHCR on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/Refugees

And on Facebook here – https://www.facebook.com/UNHCR

The WFP are on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/WFP

And on Facebook here.