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Alyssa Milano Shares Personal Photos of the ‘Life-Altering Experiences’ She’s Had with UNICEF 

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Alyssa Milano on UNICEF’s Work

Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano

Courtesy of UNICEF

There are certain children over the course of Alyssa Milano‘s 20 years as an UNICEF Ambassador whom she will always remember. There’s the young girl in Kosovo who gave her a tour of her home, with no running water or plumbing. “Six or seven homes that were sharing one hose and one toilet, a hole in the ground,” the actress recalls to PEOPLE.

In Angola, she met a 15-year-old girl who was terrified to take an HIV test at a health center — so in solidarity, the actress took a test alongside and held her hand in the waiting room. “I’ve had some incredibly life altering experiences,” Milano says of her work and travels with the humanitarian organization. “I got a very quick education in not only how most of the world lives on a dollar a day, but also the responsibility and the pride of what it meant as an ambassador to be able to touch a child’s life.”

She’s also felt enormous hope. “The beauty of being a kid is this openness,” says Milano, 49. “They just want to finish their education. They want to live in a world without war and violence. In a place where there is no domestic violence. That’s what I always get from these trips. If they can find hope, I can find hope.”

She’s also felt anger, she says, “because I feel as though with all the resources that we have and all of the billionaires making investments in things like social media, if one of them gave $40 billion to UNICEF instead of buying a fledgling social media company, the world would change very rapidly.”

She and her husband, David Bugliari, teach their kids, Milo,11 (pictured with his parents at a UNICEF gala in 2018), and Elizabeth, 8, “that giving back and doing good for your community is as fundamental as breathing and eating and brushing your teeth,” she says.

As UNICEF marks its 76th anniversary on Dec 11, she says, “We are more connected than you can ever imagine. And you see how the struggles of the children in Angola are the same struggles as the children in India or Kosovo or Egypt, or even, dare I say it, the United States. We’ve got to take care of each other.”

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Angola, 2004

Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano

Courtesy of UNICEF

Her first trip with UNICEF, Milano says, “was only two years after the peace treaty was signed [after] the civil war. There was no infrastructure. These children were going to school and living next to active minefield. Kids would have to walk through active minefields with stakes that were in the ground, that enabled them to know what path was safe.”

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India, 2005

Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano

Courtesy of UNICEF

“This was six months after the tsunami. I got to see a firsthand what that means to rebuild a country from the ground up,” she says. “Homes, entire villages were completely wiped out. They lost their animals, their farms, schools. There was basically no infrastructure in these southern villages. A lot of the houses that went up, provided by UNICEF, were made of metal shingles and built for large families but they also create the infrastructure for sustainability, so that the communities can continue on the work.”

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Kosovo, 2010

Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano

Courtesy of UNICEF

“On this trip, we focused on impoverished children, children not having enough food to eat, struggling with clean water and sanitation,” says Milano. Her role, she says, is to “use my voice and say, ‘This is what I witnessed there.’ This is the struggle, but this what UNICEF is doing — and the thousands of field reps that are boots on the ground saving lives every single day is profound.”

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Kosovo, 2010

Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano

Courtesy of UNICEF

“This was World Children’s Day where we talked about children’s rights, their needs, their future, and the work that UNICEF does there to ensure that every child has the opportunity to have healthy, productive childhoods,” Milano adds.

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Egypt, 2022

Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano

Courtesy of UNICEF

“This is one of the young girls who has become an ambassador for the Dawwie program. An outstanding girl. And she was just magical,” says Milano.

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Egypt, 2022

Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano

Courtesy of UNICEF

“This is at a Dawwie center. Dawwie means using your voice for impact basically, and this is a place where women come together to talk about how they can stop the cycle of abuse or female genital mutilation,” says Milano. “These young girls, sit in these sharing circles. They also do sharing circles with young boys, teaching them about what they can do to protect the girls in their lives and support the empowerment of the young girls. They also do these generational conversations between young girls and their mothers which is powerful to see. There’s still a large percentage of girls who live in the more rural villages, who are married off at a very young age. So their hope is to finish school and not be forced into marriage at a young age.”

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Cairo, Egypt, 2022

Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano

Courtesy of UNICEF

“This was a nursery school,” she says. “Everywhere you looked, there are things these children created on the walls, and toys that they made. The curriculum [dealt with] their bodies and food and nutrition and hygiene. We forget sometimes that kids need to be taught those things. Also, where most early learning centers close at 2 p.m., making it difficult for mothers who work a full day to contribute to their family and the economy, this learning center is open until 5 p.m.”

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Cairo, Egypt, 2022

Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano

Courtesy of UNICEF

“A whole wall [of the center] was just wallpapered with art. These were their self-portraits. Then the kids have discussions. They spoke a little bit of English, but there was a translator. We were all in a circle and we put our hands on top of each other, and I said, ‘I am happy,’ ” Milano recalls. “The interpreter interpreted that to the children and a little girl answered in English, ‘I am happy too.’ ”