|NATIONAL | winter 2007
Jewish women do mitzvah for Darfur refugees
In the Iridimi camp in eastern Chad, where 17,000 refugees from the Darfur genocide now reside, wood for cooking is a scarce, expensive commodity. Women and young girls must travel as far as five miles outside of camp in search of it, making them targets for rape and other violence. But now U.S. activists have found an unexpected way to help keep them safer: They’re providing solar cookers to reduce the women’s dependency on firewood.
The KoZon Foundation, a Dutch NGO, brought the first devices to the camp in 2005, but last May, Jewish World Watch (JWW) stepped in. The Los Angeles-based coalition of synagogues assists survivors of genocide and other human-rights violations, and its women’s committee takes on volunteer projects that particularly impact women.
“Violence against women, such as that found in Darfur, particularly resonates,” says JWW co-founder and president Janice Kamenir-Reznik. JWW raised funds to provide materials to build the simple cookers—made of cardboard and aluminum foil—and has now provided them to some 1,800 of the 4,669 families living in the camp. That decreased the number of women’s trips outside the camp by 60 percent. Each device lasts an average of four or five months and can reach a temperature of 300 degrees Fahrenheit, just right for preparing millet, vegetables and sauces.
Since solar cooking does not require the constant attention of an open fire, Darfuri refugee women will also have extra time to create handi-work that can be sold in local markets. Women in the camp are also paid to assemble the cookers, train other refugees and repair broken cookers.
It will take $100,000 annually to maintain the project, and Kamenir-Reznik hopes the U.N. will lend additional support that could bring cookers to the rest of the 200,000 Darfur refugees in eastern Chad. “It should be a requirement of the U.N. to take steps to protect the safety of the women in the camps,” she says.