Zoë Saldana knows what it takes to care for premature babies because she’s lived through it herself.
“When I was in the neonatal intensive care unit with my two sons, I became like every parent that was on that floor,” the actress, 37, tells PEOPLE. “My husband and I were at the mercy of our nurses and doctors — our children’s lives depended on their every move.”
Saldana’s own experience in the NICU with her twins Cy Aridio and Bowie Ezio, now 10 months, inspired her to get involved with Brave Beginnings, a nonprofit that works to ensure hospitals have the life-saving equipment needed to help premature babies thrive.
“When children are born prematurely, they don’t just need to be held, they need assistance breathing, feeding and going to the bathroom,” Saldana explains. “They also need incubators to protect them while they’re forming immune systems.”
In 2015 alone, Brave Beginnings has committed 1 million dollars in grants to ensure hospitals around the United States have the equipment they need to give these babies a chance.
“This equipment can mean the difference between life and death for a child, that’s just the truth,” she says. “If a child can’t breathe and doesn’t have the equipment to help him breathe we can’t help him with our own hands.”
Saldana’s hope is that every child born in the U.S. will have access to the same quality of care that her sons received.
“I went through it,” she adds. “I was there. I was a parent and my children were the ones that benefitted from having excellent services from the hospital. And I want that for every parent. I want that for every child.”
For more from our interview with Saldana, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday October 9th.
— Tiare Dunlap