November 10, 2008 12:00 PM

It has been another whirlwind autumn for Angelina Jolie. The actress has circled the globe promoting her new drama Changeling while raising her six kids with Brad Pitt, including infant twins Knox and Vivienne. But nothing puts things in perspective like visiting a war-torn country. “After seeing real suffering,” says Jolie, “you never complain anymore.”

On Oct. 22 the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency visited Afghanistan for the first time for an up-close look at the living conditions of refugees who have returned after fleeing the country in 2001. What she saw was heartbreaking: “I met families living in Kabul in makeshift tent homes,” Jolie, 33, says of the capital city, where many have flocked in search of basic necessities like food and water. “In Kabul they collect cans, wash cars, or beg. They say they ‘would rather freeze than starve.'” With 5 million people returning in the past few years, the Afghan government and aid organizations can’t keep up with demand. “Many people speak of a troop surge,” says Jolie, “but we need a humanitarian surge.”

Spending three days with families facing unimaginable hardships left Jolie even more thankful for her own good fortune. What was the first thing she did after arriving home? “Hug the kids.”

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