Lacey West/Heifer International
August 14, 2014 06:00 PM

Back in 2008, when actress Diane Lane brought her daughter, Eleanor (then 14) to Rwanda with Heifer International it was strictly as a mom not a movie star.

“Sometimes I have a gift of flipping a switch and just disappearing into a crowd,” says Lane, 49. “It’s also a blessing because I was the only mom who brought her daughter and that’s more how I was known.”

Lane, who’s currently filming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice wanted her daughter to see their efforts to end hunger and poverty firsthand. “It was unforgettable,” she says. “And to travel to Africa was already something rather large compared to our previous history of mother-daughter trips.”

The donation of cows to women in the community, she says, was the first building block to improving their livelihood. “It’s not that appropriate livestock is dropped off and a miracle is expected to take place,” says Lane. “You have the opportunity for butter and yogurt and other kinds of dairy products, even powdered milk and cheese. It increases their commerce tenfold. They become a giver within the community. Rather than somebody who needs help, they’re the ones providing it.”

On the trip, Lane’s daughter became the photo documentarian. “It gave her something to do,” she says. “All the little kids wanted to see her photographs so she would get swarmed. It took away the need for language.”

The experience, she says, was life-changing for her daughter, whose father is actor Christopher Lambert. “I think the scales fell from her eyes,” says Lane. “My daughter was sort of brought alive and I can’t imagine anything else would’ve impacted her the same way.”

The actress just returned from Guatemala with Heifer where she visited female farmers focused on creating better lives for their families. “What I loved about Heifer is that I got to show my daughter not just examples of what is sad and wrong with the world but rather people who are doing something wonderful to work against the injustice of hunger and poverty,” says Lane. “They say do one thing. What’s the one thing we can do? Whether it’s in a day. A week. A year in our lives. Out of sight, out of mind is unacceptable.”

For more on Lane and Heifer International, pick up a copy of this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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