January 08, 2007 12:00 PM

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt didn’t wait for the noisemakers and bubbly to start working on one of their most important New Year’s resolutions. Back in November, during a stealth family visit to Cambodia, the couple pledged to intensify their efforts to aid Cambodia. The homeland of their son Maddox, 5, the country is battling a spectrum of economic and health crises (see box). Expanding the scope of the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Project (MJP)—which Jolie launched more than four years ago as a conservation initiative—the pair have donated millions of dollars and teamed up with Dr. Jeffrey Sachs and his antipoverty organization Millennium Promise on an economic-development program in northwestern Cambodia. Seventy MJP workers will work with Sachs’s group on activities—including rice planting, distribution of bed nets to fight malaria, school meal programs and providing medicines for clinics—to create Asia’s first Millennium Village (see box). “We have learned so much,” says Jolie, who was awarded honorary Cambodian citizenship in 2004, “and I think we are on the right track.”

During their stay in November, the family also travelled to the capital city of Phnom Penh to visit the Maddox Chivan Children’s Center, a facility to care for kids affected by tuberculosis and AIDS, which was opened this past February with substantial financial assistance from Jolie. “They arrived and just couldn’t hold enough kids,” says Anne Goldfeld, cofounder of the Cambodian Health Committee, which operates the center. “They were very natural, very real, very respectful and very interested. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.”

In the coming year, Jolie and Pitt also hope to boost Cambodia’s economic development by encouraging tourism. “Cambodia is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and it’s largely undiscovered by tourists,” says Trevor Neilson, the couple’s philanthropic advisor. Despite the difficulties facing the country, visitors can explore the still-magnificent temples at Angkor Wat, the blue hills of the north, the pristine beaches to the south, or take an elephant trek through one of Southeast Asia’s last unspoiled forests. “We hope people will travel to Cambodia,” says Jolie. “The people there have overcome so much.”

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