My thoughts today are focused on Janice and Rachel. Today was our second day visiting the Iridimi refugee camp in eastern Chad. Refugee camp! In eastern Chad! I had to stop every once in a while and repeat that sentence to myself today as we sat in the “homes” (mud brick hovels) of 5 different families as we heard stories of how using solar cookers has made their lives safer and more secure.
And I can’t stop looking at Janice. And whispering to her, “Look what you’ve done!” As you all know, Rabbi Harold Schulweis had an incredible vision for an organization that would awaken the hearts and minds of our synagogue community to the genocides happening now, to “other people” around the world. And he tapped Janice to co-found that organization with him. Not only did she co-found it – but she ran it out of her home for more than 2 years and built it into the 56-synagogue strong coalition it now represents. In addition to educating the community and advocating to stop the genocide in Darfur, JWW has built medical clinics and water wells, funded trauma counselors and political mediators – everything geared toward humanitarian assistance for the refugees.
Eighteen months ago Janice and the JWW Women’s Committee decided to try to do something to try to prevent the rape and attacks against the refugee women who had to leave the relative safety of the refugee camps to look for firewood for cooking. They discovered a small pilot project in the Iridimi, run by Derk Rijks, to outfit the camp with solar cookers. The idea is so simple – reduce the amount of wood the women need, thereby reducing the number of trips outside the camp they must make, and thereby reducing their risk of attack or rape. And do it cheaply, with cardboard and aluminum foil.
Janice then hired the indefatigable Rachel Andres to research and implement the Solar Cooker Project. And the rest is history… well, almost. Not only have we received incredibly positive feedback about the SCP project during this visit to Chad from the UN High Commission on Refugees, the Chadian government, and other NGO’s, but the refugees themselves are telling us that this has made a huge difference in their lives, and in the lives of the daughters and granddaughters. And because of the scarcity of wood throughout eastern Chad, the UNHCR is talking about ways to expand this project to other camps as well.
I have believed in this organization from the start, and certainly would not have taken on the position as Executive Director almost a year ago if I did not think it was doing incredible work in our Jewish community for the benefit of others. As we walked through zone after zone in the refugee camp we spotted steaming pots of rice, beans and tea cooking on solar cookers in almost every courtyard. And, in the home of one of the women whose afternoon meal was cooking nearby in a solar cooker, I sat with Janice and Rachel and listened to the woman thank us for giving her and her daughters their safety back, after all they have been through in Darfur. I have never been more proud and more inspired to be in the company of my friends and colleagues, the founder of Jewish World Watch and the Director of the JWW Solar Cooker Project respectfully, Janice Kamenir-Reznik and Rachel Andres.