For Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the holidays are a time for giving – on a global scale. They spent Christmas with refugees in Costa Rica and now they’re making good on their New Year’s resolution: to intensify their efforts to aid Cambodia.
Back in November, during a stealth family visit to the homeland of their son Maddox, 5, the couple pledged to expand the scope of the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Project (MJP), which Jolie launched more than four years ago as a conservation initiative.
They’ve 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.
“We have learned so much,” Jolie, who was awarded honorary Cambodian citizenship in 2004, tells PEOPLE, “and I think we are on the right track.”
During their stay in November, the family also traveled 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. “We hope people will travel to Cambodia,” says Jolie. “The people there have overcome so much.”
No matter what, Cambodia has a permanent place in their own hearts. “It was incredibly moving,” says Pitt, “to visit my son’s country.”
For more on this story, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.