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(CNN) -- Actress Angelina Jolie is becoming almost as well known for her international charity projects, particularly those involving refugees, as she is for her roles in movies.
Before 2001, it would have seemed unlikely that this actress, famous for her role as a hypnotically captivating sociopath in the 1999 hit "Girl, Interrupted," would spend so much of her time helping the tens of millions of refugees around the world.
But since that time, the 31-year-old Academy Award-winning actress has become a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. She has traveled to some 20 countries -- including Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Namibia and Chad -- with the United Nations, on trips that she pays for herself. In addition, she told CNN that she donates a third of her income to charity. She has also written a book of her experiences, "Notes from My Travels."
Her interest and passion for helping refugees, whom she calls "the most vulnerable people in the world," was sparked in 2001 by off-site visits in Cambodia during production breaks for "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider."
It was during one of these trips, to an orphanage, that she met the baby boy she would adopt less than a year later. Maddox Chivan Jolie, now 5, quickly became a media favorite. Two years later, Jolie adopted a baby girl from Ethiopia, and named her Zahara Marley. The actress also gave birth to her daughter with boyfriend Brad Pitt, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, in Namibia in May 2006. After the birth, Jolie and Pitt donated $300,000 to two state-run hospitals in that southwest African nation.
Of her humanitarian work, Jolie said simply, "You have to just do what you can."
Actress Angelina Jolie is a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.