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Celeb News

Angelina Jolie's Cambodian connection

Angelina Jolie with her adopted son Maddox in 2005
When Angelina Jolie adopted an abandoned boy in Cambodia, no one realised she would go on to pour millions of dollars into his homeland and make a lasting difference to some of the world's poorest people.
As the town of Samlout in north-western Cambodia comes into view, naked children and crumbling shacks give way to painted wooden houses.
Kids in school uniforms, emblazoned with the initials MJP, walk along a dirt road past orderly fields of crops and vegetables. Poverty in this former Khmer Rouge guerilla stronghold seems less desperate than in other regions. Welcome to Maddox Jolie-Pitt country.
Few little boys aged nine can lay claim to their own philanthropic foundation, let alone a sleepy corner of a nation literally named after him.
Yet Maddox Jolie-Pitt is no ordinary youngster and his Hollywood-backed presence in this isolated region of Cambodia, on its protected north-western frontier with Thailand, is inescapable.
Maddox, the first of Angelina Jolie's three adopted children, was born Rath Vibol into orphaned obscurity in August 2001. At six months, he was plucked out of a home for abandoned children in provincial Battambang.
Today, he is the jet-setting scion of Tinseltown's most glamorous couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, collectively known as Brangelina.
Along with his five siblings (from three different countries), who lead a "luxury nomad" existence in the wake of their globe-trotting movie star mum and dad, he is a paparazzi favourite from Paris to Venice, New York and Los Angeles.
In Samlout, on the edge of the Cardamom mountains, however, Maddox and his high-powered parents are known for far more than their celebrity.
An estimated 5000 people living in 10 villages owe their livelihoods (or at least part of them) to him and his adopted mother and father, through the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, or MJP as it is known, created by Angelina in 2003.
Almost a decade after Maddox's birth and adoption by the woman who put Angkor Wat on the tourism map as action hero Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, The Weekly is in Cambodia to retrace Jolie's steps as she leapt from action hero to adoptive mother, humanitarian philanthropist and honoured Cambodian citizen.
It is a path littered with good deeds, millions of dollars and a wealth of conflicting theories.
The crowds at the "Tomb Raider temple", as it is now known at Angkor Wat, are largest at the tree where Angelina Jolie was immortalised as the crusading Lara Croft.
Tourists from Korea, China, Eastern Europe and Australia troop to the spot where she emerged from the temple and try to re-enact her moves for their own cameras. "Is this where they filmed it?" a girl demands of her mother in a distinctly Australian accent.
Tour guides, taxi drivers and hotel staff at the closest town, Siem Reap, all talk about Angelina and how she stayed at this hotel or drank at that one. There are cocktails named after her.
It was during the filming of Tomb Raider that Angelina fell in love with Cambodia. In turn, she helped make the Angkor ruins famous, turning them into one of Asia's biggest tourist drawcards and bringing hotels, tourists and, most importantly, dollars to the once sleepy town.
Yet in the nearby city of Battambang — the birthplace of her son, Maddox — Angelina has barely caused a ripple. In Cambodia's second largest city, where boulevards are lined with crumbling French villas, the people are poor, the streets are dirty and grubby, with malnourished street kids begging for a living. This may have been Maddox's future had fate not intervened.
For more information or to join the campaign to change adoption laws, visit National Adoption Awareness Week or email [womensweekly@acpmagazines.com.au](/mailto:womensweekly@acpmagazines.com.au).
Read more of this story in the July issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.

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