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Mia Farrow honored for humanitarian work in Darfur

Mia Farrow's home in rural Connecticut is the image of its owner: Unadorned and gently weathered on the exterior, light-filled and book-crammed within. Outside, it's a model of Yankee simplicity; inside, Woodstock eclectic, keepsakes of her multicultural family and her work with the United Nations Children's Fund.

Now 66, Farrow retains the porcelain skin and ideals of the former convent schoolgirl who dreamed of being a pediatrician in Africa. For much of her adult life, the star of "Rosemary's Baby" and mother of 15 children, 11 of them adopted, has devoted herself to saving the world one child at a time. A decade ago, she expanded the mission: one nation at a time.

Tomorrow night, Farrow will receive the Marian Anderson Award at a gala at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center gala, honoring her commitment to initiatives ranging from the eradication of polio in Nigeria to raising awareness of genocide in Darfur.

In 2006, Farrow asked to accompany Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, to Darfur, the region of Sudan where an estimated 200,000 people have been killed and four million displaced since 2003. He expected a glamour-puss who recoiled from dirt and danger. He found a courageous and dedicated humanitarian soldier.

Her work comes as no surprise to longtime friend Carly Simon, who will sing at Tuesday's event: "Mia's unself-conscious of her looks. She's conscious of her acts."

Farrow greets you at the door of Frog Hollow cradling Maggie, an 8-week-old Goldendoodle. Drawings and toys, among other souvenirs of nine grandchildren visiting for Easter, decorate the rug of the "kids' room" overlooking a lake. Her children range in age from Quincy, 17, to Matthew and Sascha, 41, twins by her second husband, conductor Andre Previn. After she and Previn split, for 12 years she was the partner of Woody Allen, who took up with her daughter, Soon-Yi Previn.

A trim figure clad in a T-shirt, jeans and clogs, Farrow wears a "hijab" protection amulet around her neck. It was a gift from Halimah, a Darfuri whose village was burned by Janjaweed militiamen. Gunmen tore her baby from her arms, bayoneted the infant to death, and threw three other children down a well. Then, they raped her.

"When I heard her story, my life changed," says Farrow. Acutely aware of the gulf between her and those struggling with disease, she didn't wring her hands - she used them.

"I didn't know I could write op-ed pieces. I didn't know that I could take pictures. I didn't know I could give speeches." But she did.

She created a website, miafarrow.org, which aggregates news and reports from Africa's trouble spots and provides links on how to help. To document what is lost to genocide, she created the Darfur Archives. She filmed songs dances, and agricultural methods. She recorded stories of the elders. Refugees gave her artifacts rescued from their villages. An elder thanked her "for reminding us to remember."

"If I have any importance it's to amplify the voices of people who need protection," she says.

Today she is philosophical and, unexpectedly, a stitch. "I think I'm intense but I do have a good time," she says.

She talks about her obsession with reality TV and tells of her time at the ashram when the Beatles showed up to study with the Maharishi. She does not tell the one about Sinatra offering to break Allen's legs.

In her mid-60s, this is what she knows. That impatience is a virtue. That where homework is concerned, "Gotta do it, but don't ask me for help with math." That it's OK to change tracks in life.

An inspiration is Miep Gies, the woman who risked her life by hiding Anne Frank and family from the Nazis. Farrow asked Gies, who died last year, what made her do it.

"What else could I do?" Gies responded.

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