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Encino-Based Organization Jewish World Watch Helps Refugees a World Away

JWW's solar cooker project is helping thousands of refugees prepare their family meals in safety.

Jewish World Watch (JWW), an Encino-based organization devoted to helping victims of genocide, grew out of an idea that had its first expression at in 2004.

According to Jonathan Golub, the organization's director of communications, the synagogue's rabbi, Rabbi Schulweis, spoke about the Rwandan genocide and his disappointment that he had not done anything to help; he continued by saying that, because of the Holocaust, the Jewish community had a particular responsibility to ensure that victims of genocide were not ignored.  After the talk, synagogue member Janice Kamenir-Reznik talked to Schulweis, and together they created Jewish World Watch.

One of the ways that JWW helps victims of the genocide in Darfur is through its Solar Cooker Project, which provides solar cookers to famlies living in refugee camps in Chad. Two of the cookers were on display at , which took place earlier this month.

Rachel Andres, the director of of the Solar Cooker Project, said that the idea came out of observing another JWW project, that of building water wells in refugee camps. Andres said that while JWW staff were constructing the wells, they noticed that the camp population was predominately made up of women and children.

"The men had either been killed [in the genocide] or were not there," said Andres. Many of the women, she said "had been raped by the Janjaweed [gunmen]," both in their villages and around the camps.

The problem, said Andres, was that women were leaving the camps to gather firewood to use a cooking fuel. Once they leave the relative security of the camps, their personal security decreases. Children sent out to find fuel also end up putting their educational needs in jeopardy.

"You've got 10-year-old kids missing school to gather firewood," said Andres. "They're gone for 10 hours, they walk for four hours in 104 degree farenheit heat, and then collect the wood for two hours, then walk four hours back carrying the wood."

Andres got in contact with Dr. Derk Rijks, who had started a solar cooker pilot project in one of the refugee camps, and joined forces.

"Training the women to make and use the cookers seemed like it should be pretty simple," said Andres, "but their culture had never seen them before. It's kind of like seeing a microwave for the first time. You say, I'm skeptical, I don't get it. So we decided to educate."

The project has been enormously successfully, said Andres, and people all over the U.S. have raised funds for it through their church groups and synagogues, schools, girl scout groups, book clubs and more.

"People just fell in love with the project," she said. "It's so huge what can you do–provide a woman with something to keep her safe and provide for her famly."

Andres added that two young fundraisers had created special projects to raise money for the fund. One, Shelby Layne, a student at Barnard College in New York, has raised $70,000 by selling donated jewellery, as well as making pieces herself. Another, Maya Steinberg, a local high school student, raises funds by selling donated bags and purses. At the recent event in Pan Pacific Park alone, Steinberg raised $2,000.

Groups of women in each of the four Darfurian refugee camps in Chad that JWW helps (it's hoping to expand into eight more) are also given the opportunity to learn how to make the stoves themselves, said Andres, adding that this provides them with opportunities for economic empowerment, as well as giving them leadership skills as they train other women to do the same.

Andres said that visiting the camps in Chad, and talking to the women who used the cookers, was an incredible experience. She said she asked the women to be honest about their views on using the new solar cookers.

"Everyone said that they don’t have to get firewood and risk their safety anymore," she said. "After that a variety of answers, like 'I have more time to braid my daughter's hair,' 'I can talk to my friends'—all these different things.  it was really heartwarming."

The Solar Cooker Project also partners with Christian Outreach Relief Development (CORD), Kozon, Solar Cookers International, and TchadSolaire. The refugee camps are run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Andres said that a $40 donation will provide a family with the two cookers they need to prepare their food. Over the course of a year, two cookers can save the family from collecting one ton of wood. Smoke from cooking fires powered by wood burnign is considerd a major cause of global warming.

To donate, and to find out more about the project, visit www.solarcookerproject.org.

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