During the time around Thankgiving, I always think about gratitude. For my 45th birthday (October 18), I created a project 45x45. For the 45 days before I turned 45 I asked 45 people to donate $45 in order to give 45 solar cookers to Darfur refugees. We raised enough money to help at least 47 families, which means that over two hundred people's lives will be changed with the Solar Cooker Project.
Rachel Andres, Director, Solar Cooker Project of Jewish World Watch, gave me permission to share the following story with you. It was originally written for Passover, a time when Jews recall being slaves. Since Thanksgiving was last week, I think it is equally poignant to think of what we are grateful for and how we are blessed.
In the Haggadah (readings for the Passover seder) we read, "In every generation, each of us should see ourselves as if we, ourselves, went out from Egypt." We are asked to put ourselves in the place of our ancestors. To appreciate our freedom, we have to understand the experience of living in slavery... the fear, hunger, and circumstances beyond our control. It's not easy for us to understand; we who are blessed to live in a time and a place of great freedom, prosperity, and opportunities.
Suraya Djounga Haroun, a Darfuri refugee living in a camp in Chad, hasn't been as fortunate:
"When we lived in Darfur we farmed the land. We grew mangoes, lemons, cauliflower and lettuce. Even though we're grateful for what we're given in the refugee camp, it's a totally different life. In Darfur we had freedom. No one could tell us what to do. We chose what we ate and where we went. We could go out and collect wood for cooking without any fear, but here each time we go outside of the camp we feel afraid. So many women have been raped and attacked when they've ventured away from the camp. It's frightening.
Since I joined the Solar Cooker Project last year, my family and I have really benefited. My parents are old so I have to look after them. I even used to have to miss lessons at school to collect firewood for cooking because I had to go out of the camp at least 4 times per week, looking for wood. Now that we are using a solar cooker, I only need to collect firewood once a week. My friends and I get together on Fridays, when the school is closed, and we go to collect firewood together. So now I never miss out on lessons!" (Told to Annie Turnbull, CORD, Farchana refugee camp in Chad, March 2012)
Suraya was a modern-day slave to her situation. Before receiving a solar cooker, she faced extreme personal danger while collecting wood. If she was threatened and ran, it was likely her family would not eat that day. The Solar Cooker Project protects her from danger and eases her burden by decreasing the amount of wood needed for cooking to feed her family. Her life has been lifted -- from slavery to safety.
Our Rabbis taught: "The story of the Haggadah begins in the degradation of slavery and takes us to glory." The Solar Cooker Project allows others to elevate their lives in the same way.
I want to thank everyone who stepped forward to participate and change Suraya and her friends' lives. George and I spent my birthday, October 18, in Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar (Burma) and celebrated with new friends. I wanted to express my gratitude to the community for committing to make a difference. If you would like to participate in this project or learn more, please contact the JWW Solar Cooker Project.