Rachel Andres is pictured with refugees in Chad (Photo: Jewish World Watch)
Many of the more than 250,000 Sudanese who fled rape and genocide in Darfur face some of the same danger they saw in their homeland in refugee camps in Chad, a supposed safe haven.
Every time a woman steps foot outside of a camp to collect the firewood she needs for cooking, she opens herself up to rape or attack. The incidents are believed to occur often, but many don’t report them due to the stigma rape brings upon their families.
“We wanted to do something to help women of Darfur who had escaped the genocide and survived and were living in refugee camps in Chad,” Rachel Andres, director of the Jewish World Watch told BET.com. “When we started to research how we could help, we found that they’re still actually in danger because they were daily, or every few days, leaving the camp to collect firewood to cook their meals.”
The Solar Cooker Project, started five years ago by the organization, seeks to remedy this problem. Solar cookers are foil devices that use sunlight to cook food, therefore making it unnecessary for women to risk their safety by leaving the camps. Since 2006, the group has raised money—$3 million since the project began—to send over materials to make the cookers. It only takes $40 dollars to provide one family with 2 cookers, and the organization has raised a majority of their funds through $40 donations.
In addition to improving safety, solar cookers have proven to have environmental benefits since not as many trees are cut down for firewood. Health risks involved with cooking over an open fire—“eye disease, lung disease and other health problems”—are also eliminated, Andres says.
Moreover, after the group sends the raw materials for the cookers to the camps, women are paid to put them together and to teach other women how to use them.
“It’s great on many levels… as you can imagine there aren’t many jobs in a refugee camp,” Andres said. Also, “the development of women as leaders amongst their peers … has been really positive.”
The project has been successful. With the solar cookers, refugee women report leaving camp 86 percent less than they did when they had to cook with firewood. Women at the camps who were surveyed said they liked the cookers for many reasons—the primary one being able to stay inside the camps.
The project, which is currently at four camps, is helping about 90,000 refugees. The group hopes to expand the project to all 12 camps in Chad.
The Solar Cooker Project celebrates its five-year anniversary on Monday at an event where they will honor major donors and fundraisers.
Click here to learn more about the project and how you can donate to help.