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Simple sun-cooker takes off as a way to help Darfuris

Grass-roots giving for the solar cooker, donated to women who fled Darfur, takes root in the US.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 26, 2007

Encino, Calif.

When Harvard law student Jesse Gabriel organized a "Dinner for Darfur" fundraiser in April, he was amazed that 17 student groups got together and raised $16,000 in one night.

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When nurse Harriet Lavin showed footage of Darfur at a song-and-prayer evening in Kenosha, Wis., she was struck by the "instant generosity" of 70 rural residents who opened their pocketbooks to the tune of $2,500 for a cause they hadn't known anything about.

And when Los Angeles 11th-grader Shelby Layne raised $15,000 from three jewelry sales to help Darfur refugees, it "was successful beyond my wildest dreams," she says.

The three activists are among thousands nationwide who have raised money for a project that addresses the rape, mutilation, and murder of Darfuri women – now among at least 2 million Sudanese displaced by the conflict. The aim: Supply families with solar cookers and teach women in refugee camps new cooking skills so they don't have to burn wood.

This reduces the need for women to hunt for firewood outside the camps, where the risk of attack and rape is greater.

A recent report by the humanitarian group Refugees International identified rape as a weapon of systematic ethnic cleansing being used by Sudanese government-backed janjaweed militiamen. "The raping of Darfuri women is not sporadic or random, but is inexorably linked to the systematic destruction of their communities," the report says.

More cookers being distributed

Some 200,000 women and children live in refugee camps across the border from Sudan. More than 6,000 cookers have been distributed in the Iridimi refugee camp, a that has almost no vegetation but sunshine 330 days a year. Another 10,000 are expected to be supplied in the Touloum camp nearby over the next year.

"The fact that the use of these cookers has grown so fast in Iridimi is a testament to the need for safety," says Rachel Andres, director of the solar cooker project for Jewish World Watch (JWW), a nonprofit coalition of synagogues in southern California, which is a cosponsor of the project.

Two solar cookers can save a ton of wood per year, according to JWW. They free women from tending fires to do other tasks, and provide income for female refugees because the cookers are manufactured on-site. Envision foil-covered cardboard (about four feet by two feet) folded upward to direct sun's rays on a black pot, placed in the center, and covered in a plastic bag. Millet, rice, eggs, and other ingredients are put in the pot, surrounded by the water-moistened plastic bag that provides softening condensation.

Why project is unique

The solar cooker project is unique in the annals of global aid efforts, say international aid experts and individual fundraisers.

For one thing, the United States and humanitarian groups have declared the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan a genocide. More than 350,000 people have died. Second, the Sudanese government puts restrictions on humanitarian aid workers, making grass-roots groups and private donations, especially to those in refugee camps, more important.

To donate:

Jewish World Watch
Solar Cooker Project
16944 Ventura Blvd. Suite 1
Encino, CA 91316