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Video: Jolie on refugees: ‘I think about my kids’

TODAY contributor
updated 6/19/2009 9:18:46 AM ET 2009-06-19T13:18:46

Working with the world’s refugees gives Angelina Jolie a new appreciation for her life in the United States. “You see people that have suffered things that you will never, ever know,” the Academy Award-winning actress told NBC’s Ann Curry on TODAY. “And you know how lucky you are.”

She also believes her childhood would have been much different if she’d grown up knowing what she has learned as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. “I think it would have got me through my youth easier,” Jolie said. “I would have been less self-destructive.”

Jolie said she hopes that her own children with companion Brad Pitt will benefit from her traveling the globe while she works for the U.N., visiting refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Her son Maddox has already visited one camp. “I want them to see it as an area where they can go down the street and play football with those kids and get to know them and, as they grow up, see them as friends they spend time with,” Jolie said.

“I hope if I raise them with a more accurate view of the world than I was raised with, then they will naturally be better people. And I’m sure my children will be visiting and learning from refugees in the future.”

A special day
The United Nations General Assembly designated June 20 as World Refugee Day to recognize the contributions of refugees throughout the world. Jolie has participated in several events to publicize the event, including a conference on Thursday honoring refugees at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Curry served as Jolie’s last-minute co-host at the event, after CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s plane was delayed by weather. The experience taught Curry several things, she wrote in allDAY, the TODAY show family’s blog, including:

“People united by a common purpose can pull off even the seemingly impossible even amid chaos.”

“A pouring rain and sticky humidity still do not make Angelina Jolie have a bad hair day.”

“Refugees, often because of the depth of their suffering, have so much love and gratitude, they make you cry.”

“And Anderson Cooper should have taken the train.”

Slideshow: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt: Actors and activists

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Also on Thursday, Jolie and Pitt donated $1 million to the U.N. agency helping Pakistanis displaced by fighting between troops and Taliban militants in the northwest part of the country. More than 260,000 refugees are living in camps run by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.

‘Tough, smart people’
In her TODAY interview, Jolie said she hoped refugees would take a larger role in shaping their countries’ future.

“We desperately need them to contribute,” the actress said. “We should be relying on them more and more there. They are a tough, smart bunch of people. And they are the future of their country.”

Image: Angelina Jolie, Ann Curry
Manuel Balce Ceneta  /  AP
Angelina Jolie, left, and TODAY's Ann Curry join the commemoration of World Refugee Day at the National Geographic Society in Washington on Thursday.

The actress said she enjoys her work, particularly when it leads to one-on-one encounters with women refugees. “I’ve talked with these women and they were like any girlfriends I’ve ever talked to,” she said. “They were just sweet and funny and kind and great mommies. It taught me a lot about a strength of character that I’ve found in many, many refugees that I’ve met and continue to meet.”

Jolie said she is sympathetic to their cause because “in fact, all of these decent families are fighting against … extremism. And the reason that they’re running and fleeing is because they’re not extremists.”

Jolie said she has experienced her share of heartbreak in her U.N. role. Recalling a 2001 trip to Pakistan, where “it was just such a desperate situation,” she spoke of meeting families without enough to eat. “And I think about my kids. And I think, God, on a daily basis, for them to go days and days and not have anything to give your children has got to be the most difficult thing as a mother.”

Still, Jolie said, “I beg anybody listening ... not to pity these people.” She adds: “They understand something we simply don’t about life. We desperately need them to contribute.”

Slideshow: Angelina Jolie Curry asked Jolie how it felt to be compared to Audrey Hepburn, the actress who also served as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador.

“I’m lucky to be in this,” Jolie said. “And I’m sure Audrey Hepburn felt the same. That she was the fortunate one to be able to meet all those kids around the world. You know, we’re just in a very fortunate situation that we get to be able to give a voice to these extraordinary people.”

The actress also said she intends to continue her work with refugees for a long time. “See yourself as an old woman doing it?” Curry asked her.

Replied Jolie: “I hope so.”

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