Make It Matter

Here Comes the Sun
By providing a simple solar cooker to refugees from Darfur, one woman gives hope to a ravaged region B Y L I N D S A Y M I L L E R



hen her rabbi asked Janice Kamenir-Reznik to help organize against the genocide in Darfur, she had one question: “Where’s that?” It was the summer of 2004, and the Sudanese conflict had yet to make frontpage news. But that day, after reading about the civil war that had claimed more than 50,000 lives and sent tens of thousands of people into refugee camps, Kamenir-Reznik knew she had to help. A retired environmental lawyer active in civiland human-rights issues, Kamenir-Reznik was known for her organizational skills. “I’m a very pragmatic activist,” she says. “Just pondering ideas is
Kamenir-Reznik, 56, with the CooKit that is preventing assaults and saving lives. 1/09



Are You Making It Matter?
Reader’s Digest will award a $10,000 grant to the Jewish World Watch Solar Cooker Project— enough to buy nearly 700 cookers— in Janice Kamenir-Reznik’s name. For more details on the project, go to
Tell us how you or someone you know is making it matter, and your story may appear here. Go to

relief agency said refugees used them as roofs for tents—KamenirReznik was undeterred.


not my thing.” Within two weeks, she and her rabbi, Harold Schulweis, had organized a meeting for synagogue leaders across the Los Angeles area. The crisis resonated with the group, some of whom had lost relatives in the Holocaust. They took the name Jewish World Watch (JWW) and looked for a concrete way to help the people in the camps. They knew the women and children faced horrific dangers when they ventured beyond the settlements to gather firewood for cooking. “The price they had to pay for feeding their families was rape,” says Kamenir-Reznik. “That just seemed outrageous.” When a JWW member suggested outfitting the camps with solar cookers, Kamenir-Reznik found a company called Solar Cookers International. Its CooKits were inexpensive and easy to assemble. And although naysayers told her that solar cookers hadn’t worked in the past—one 16

n just six months, JWW raised more than $125,000 for the Solar Cooker Project. The organization built a one-room manufacturing “plant” in the Iridimi camp, then trained instructors to teach the women to use the cookers properly. The CooKit—an aluminum-foilcoated cardboard frame around a black pot—costs $15 to supply. And while it takes about two hours to cook lentils, rice, and millet in the cooker, compared with 20 minutes over an open fire, it’s worth the wait. Kamenir-Reznik visited the Iridimi camp in October. Trips to collect firewood were down 86 percent; rapes and assaults had decreased significantly. “I no longer need to go to the bush for firewood,” one woman told Kamenir-Reznik. “The wood that used to last me a week now lasts me a month, and because there is no smoke, it is very clean and the food tastes better.” The Solar Cooker Project expanded into Chad’s Touloum and Oure Cassoni camps in 2007. To date, JWW has raised more than $1.6 million across the United States and distributed more than 25,000 cookers. “Until we started this organization,” says Kamenir-Reznik, “I believed that Darfur was a faraway problem, one that I couldn’t fix. But now nobody can say that there’s nothing we can do about it.” I 1/09

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful