Angelina Jolie Inspires International Adoptions

ByABC News via logo

Oct. 1, 2005 — -- When cameras follow the actress Angelina Jolie, it's not just down the red carpet. It's often a very long way from Hollywood.

Two important roles have taken Jolie around the world -- her roles as U.N. goodwill ambassador, and as mother of her son, Maddox, and new daughter, Zahara.

"They're the greatest little people I've ever met, and they give me so much joy," Jolie said.

Both of Jolie's children are adopted. Maddox came from Cambodia four years ago, and Zahara came from Ethiopia, where she fought to stay alive in a world of hunger and desperation.

"She had a choice of life or death -- because some children that were in a very similar situation to her passed away at that time, [kids] who didn't get out in time," Jolie said.

Jolie managed to get Zahara out at 6 months old. She was one of the lucky ones.

"A child dies, I think the stats are, every three seconds in Africa from completely preventable diseases, for the most part," said Sarah Mraz, director of child programs at Wide Horizons for Children, a private, nonprofit adoption and child welfare agency in Waltham, Mass., that places children from 10 countries, including the United States, with U.S. families.

"The reason these children are placed with international families is because they cannot be cared for in their country of origin," she added.

When Jolie arrived back in the U.S. from her last adoption trip, the cameras started clicking again. She and little Zahara graced the covers of numerous magazines, and the public took note.

"I remember being at the store and seeing Angelina on the cover of, I think it was People magazine," said Ann-Charles Watt, "and I said, 'Oh my gosh! We can do this.' "

Watt and her husband, Jason Hillard, residents of Athens, Ohio, wanted to adopt a child. When they saw Jolie on that magazine cover with her adopted daughter, their decision to raise a child from Ethiopia was clear.

"In the grand scheme of things, she changed our lives," Watt said. "It's kind of hilarious to think of, but yeah, Angelina Jolie probably brought us an African child."

Americans have been adopting from around the globe for many years. The highest adoption numbers in 2004 came from China, Russia and Guatemala. Ethiopia's number is much lower. Some say it's because of lack of awareness.

But that seems to be changing. Since Jolie adopted Zahara, international adoption agencies in the United States say inquiries about Ethiopian babies have doubled.

"Anyone similar to Ms. Jolie in celebrity status does bring increased media attention, and does increase interest for other parents to come forward and help these children," said Mraz.

As for Watt and Hillard, they should hear in the next six months if they will make the trip to Ethiopia to pick up their new baby.

"It feels like we are reaching out in a way," Hillard said. "We're inviting a whole new genealogy to our family line. We invite culture and diversity into our family and those are the things that inspired me to adopt."

Jolie hopes more people follow in her footsteps and discover the rewards of saving a child who might not otherwise live to see a first birthday.

"It makes me very happy," Jolie said. "And also [it makes me happy] for the parents, 'cause they're going to be lucky … with those babies 'cause they're amazing."

For more information on overseas adoptions, click here.

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