"I wanted to help communities," Jolie tells PEOPLE. "Building schools and clinics means little if meanwhile the environment the community relies on is destroyed." 

Angelina Jolie is fighting to make the world a better place for her kids one tree at a time.

The environmentalist filmmaker, 42, recently appeared alongside Queen Elizabeth and Sir David Attenborough in the ITV special The Queen’s Green Planet, which focused on her forest conservation work in Namibia. The new documentary highlights the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy project, which aims to create and protect areas of indigenous forest across all 53 Commonwealth nations, of which Namibia is a member.

The Namibian government asked Jolie to help developed the country’s contribution to the Queen’s project in 2016 due to her previous work as a conservationist. “I wanted to help communities,” Jolie tells PEOPLE. “Building schools and clinics means little if meanwhile the environment the community relies on is destroyed.”

Bringing her children — Maddox, 16, Pax, 14, Zahara, 12, Shiloh, 11, and twins Vivienne and Knox, 9 — along for the journey was also important to the mother of six. “For us to come here and say to the children, ‘This is why it’s important to plant a tree,’ that’s the biggest message I can teach my kids, and it’s something that they’ve certainly learned from Her Majesty and her message,” the Oscar winner says in the documentary.

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Angelina Jolie and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt in Namibia (2017).
| Credit: Nathan Wiley

Witnessing the environmental impact of deforestation in Cambodia helped inspire Jolie to work towards preventing the same thing from happening in Namibia. “I have seen first hand the huge deforestation of the Cardamom mountains in Cambodia. Our local team is so dedicated and fighting hard to protect the area of the remaining forest that we help to look after,” Jolie explains to PEOPLE.

“In Namibia the local bushmen can tell you what each plant does, what they are used for and what effects it has on their tribe when one is lost,” she adds. “The way they see the land is how we all need to learn to see the land.”

Jolie has long had a special connection to the African country. She adopted her first son, Cambodian-born Maddox, in Namaibia while filming Beyond Borders there in 2003. Then in 2006, she traveled to the country to give birth to her daughter Shiloh.

In addition to her work battling deforestation, Jolie has funded projects in the country under Shiloh’s name to help protect endangered wildlife like cheetahs, elephants and rhino. In order to fight deforestation, she developed and funded two nurseries that grow indigenous trees for replanting in the desert.

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Jolie has continued to run the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which has worked for almost 15 years on forest and wildlife conservation and healthcare and education in Cambodia. The family funds a team of local rangers who work to address illegal poaching and logging. Last year the Foundation planted 10,000 new trees.

The actress also plans to give back in her son Pax’s native Vietnam and Zahara’s birthplace of Ethiopa, where the family’s new clinic will open shortly.

During her appearance in The Queen’s Green Planet, Jolie also wowed fans around the world by nonchalantly piloting and landing a small plane over the Namibian desert. Jolie got her pilot’s license in December 2004, saying that her son Maddox inspired her, PEOPLE reported at the time. “If I could actually fly a plane by the time he’s 4, I’ll be like Superman to him.”

Now, Jolie tells PEOPLE, her son Knox is learning how to fly. “I love being up in the air,” she says. “I love the freedom. Knox is now learning to fly. It makes me crazy happy to see him discover it. He still needs help with the pedals, but won’t for long.”