Natalie Portman Opens Up About Visiting Kenyan Girls Striving for an Education: 'It Was One of the Most Inspiring Experiences of My Life'

Natalie Portman is one of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World for her support toward helping young women in developing countries attain education.

“Such a huge percentage of the world’s girls don’t have access to school at all,” Portman, 35, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Many live in places where they’re punished for going to school or are threatened with violence for going to school. Until that changes, our world will be the unstable place it is.”

The Oscar winner has been working with the organization WE that helps young women in both developing and developed countries have access to schooling.

“I’ve been working with WE for a few years and they’re an incredible group that has both operations in the developing world, in places there aren’t enough schools and they build schools and everything that goes around them,” Portman says. “And then they also have programs in the developed world.”

The pregnant mother even visited one of the locations the organization helped — a village in Kenya that didn’t previously offer secondary school to girls.

“Last year I got to go to Kenya to visit one of the projects, it’s the first school for girls in the Maasai area — first secondary school — so there was no opportunity for these girls to have a high school education at all,” the Jackie actress says. “And now it’s the first graduating class so we went and met some of these women and they were so remarkable. It’s the most moving thing when someone gets something that I took for granted.”

Portman recalls being amazed at the drive of the young women to learn as much as they can. She says the school even had to install new rules that closed the library early because the girls were staying up late studying and not wanting to rest.

“Being with these people, you leave and you’re like, “I need to go into my life with that amount of focus and energy and love and generosity and excitement,” the actress said.

She adds: “It was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life.”

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