Monday, January 29, 2007

The Power of a Cardboard Oven and a Story

Think about this the next time you make dinner for your family: More than half the world’s population – three billion people – cook their daily meals over a wood or charcoal fire.

And some risk their lives just to gather the wood.

As the world’s population grows, wood becomes increasingly scarce especially in arid and semiarid regions like Sahelian Africa. In some places, young children scavenge far and wide instead of going to school. In others, families descend deeper into poverty as the cost of wood takes gigantic bites from their pitiful income.

In 1997, a Dutch solar energy enthusiast named Wietske Jongbloed formed the KoZon Foundation to teach people in Burkina Faso to use a cardboard solar oven called the CooKit. Jongbloed saw the CooKit as a way to reduce poverty, prevent deforestation and desertification, and provide income for those who help promote the program.

Local women learned how to cook with the ovens and then enthusiastically trained others. CooKit’s popularity and reach quickly spread to other countries in Sahelian Africa.

But in 2003, as the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan escalated, the cost of scavenging for wood took a bloody turn.

The arid regions of Chad and eastern Sudan, where more than 2 million people have been displaced due to fighting and genocide, produce little wood. The sources for the conflict are both ethnic and economical: Sudanese Arabs attempt to drive off, and in many cases slaughter, their black African neighbors; and, as desertification reduces water sources in the region, farmers fight nomads for what precious little water is left.

In southeastern Chad, 200,000 Sudanese refugees have settled in lawless camps near the border. At first, the female refugees needed to walk only a few hundred yards to find wood. But scarce sources were quickly depleted, and now women walk for miles making them easy targets for bands of Janjaweed militia who cross the border to prey on them. Many women are kidnapped and brutally raped, and far too many are murdered.

And there are few men to protect them because so many have been slaughtered in the war.

Sponsored by the KoZon Foundation, Derk Rijks, along with African teachers Marie-Rose Neloum and Gillhoube Patallet, began distributing CooKits to refugees in a Chadian camp in 2005. And, at tremendous risk to their own lives. The Janjaweed militia also targets aid workers.

As a result of their work, Rijks, Neloum and Patallet have been chosen by The Immortal Chaplains Foundation for the 2007 Prize for Humanity. This prize, given in memory of The Four Chaplains, honors “those who risked all to protect others of a different faith or ethnic origin.”

My parents and I will attend the presentation in Long Beach, CA. I’ve been staring at my computer screen for about four hours trying to find words to explain how this makes me feel.

Because in the dead of a wintry night during WWII, four Army chaplains - one Catholic, one Jew and two Protestant - gave their life jackets to terrified soldiers on a torpedoed troopship and then joined arms in common prayer.

Because even though 675 died, most frozen to death by the time rescuers arrived, the story of the chaplains' sacrifice survived the sinking of the USAT Dorchester on Feb. 3, 1943.

And, because of the power of the chaplains’ story, we honor the heroism of Rijks, Neloum and Patallet this Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007, the sixty-fourth anniversary of my own grandfather's sacrifice and death aboard the Dorchester.

And those solar ovens? The materials, training and a year’s maintenance for a solar oven for a refugee family of six costs about $25.

Think about that for a second.

For less than you likely spend on a single day’s meals for your family, a cardboard oven could save a woman from rape, or worse, murder.

If you’d like to support the efforts of Rijks, Neloum and Patallet, you can become a member of Solar Cookers International for a mere $50. That’s $.07 a day to enable two refugee families to cook in relative safety. And the 60 plus teachers who are paid through donations to promote the ovens take tremendous pride in work that helps protect the safety of their families, their community and their environment.

For more information about the conflict in Darfur, and to find more ways to support the work of people like Rijks, Neloum and Patallet, visit these web pages:

  • Don Cheadle's opinion article in USA Today

  • Sudanreeves

  • Sudan Tribune

  • Coalition for Darfur

  • Save Darfur

  • *Thank you to Dr. Rijks and the KoZon Foundation for permission to use the photographs here, and for reviewing this post for accuracy. And special thanks to Mai Wen, my sister in spirit and in all things Africa.


    Åsa said...

    Thank you for providing us with information of how to help!

    Elizabeth Krecker said...

    You're awesome, Asa! And there are so many ways to help! Thank YOU!!

    mai wen said...

    What a wonderful and informative post! Thank you so much for sharing and what a Great idea! I'd heard for a while about the women getting raped and murdered when gathering wood, but I hadn't heard of this new initiative to help them.

    BTW, totally off topic, but is there a new look to the blog? I usually check my blogs through Bloglines so unfortunately miss out on some of the cool new designs, etc., but since I was leaving a comment I got to see your beautiful blog! I love the look, sorry if I was late to notice!!

    By the way, talking about sisters, I'm 5'3", 110 pounds... weird.

    angie said...

    Cool post, Elizabeth. I remember when I was in Peru being struck by the huge cloud o' smoke from the charcoal fires in Iquitos. The pollution can't be good for anybody, even if they are in the freakin' rainforest. I'll have to check out this non-profit. Sounds like something I'd like to support.

    Elizabeth Krecker said...

    Mai Wen, It's amazing how a simple oven made from $8 worth of materials can have such a profound affect on an entire community, isn't it. And I'm glad you like the new design!

    Angie, it's really amazing to think about how many people cook their meals over wood or charcoal. Another concern has to be the affect all that smoke must have on people's lungs.

    We're so privileged, and we rarely notice it. Stories like this really drive it home.

    anne frasier said...

    thanks so much for this information, elizabeth.

    mai wen said...

    Heyyy, totally has nothing to do with this post, but check out our two sports passions colliding! Thought you'd appreciate this!

    Mindy Tarquini said...

    You don't post often, but when you do, it's always interesting. My kids made one of those ovens at school.

    It works.

    Jess Riley said...

    I love when I click on somebody's blog and it's a post like this. Elizabeth, thank you so much for writing about this.

    Elizabeth Krecker said...

    Thank you Anne, M.G. and Jess. I hope you found the story inspiring!

    Philip Hawley, Jr said...

    Thanks for letting me know about this. What a wonderful organization. I just joined.

    Richard Cooper said...

    Thanks Elizabeth!
    I've linked your post on my blog.

    Anonymous said...

    Very cool post Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing.

    angie said...

    Helloooo? There seems to be an echo in here...

    It's been a couple of months, E. Put up a shortie post or email & let me know you're still alive!!!

    Ballpoint Wren said...

    What Angie said!