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Suzan Filipek
Edition: 8/1/2008

AT HOME with son Ezra, Rachel Andres and the life-saving solar cooker.

In two years, Rachel Andres has raised $1.3 million for a seemingly simple solar cooking project that has made life safer for thousands of Darfurian refugee women and girls. Actually, make that $1.4 million the Hancock Park resident has earned for the Jewish World Watch (JWW) project, after adding her newly earned prize money to the coffer.

The director of the Solar Cooker Project was awarded $100,000 this spring as part of the Charles Bronfman Prize for her humanitarian work. She plans to spend it on a third camp in Chad to accommodate an additional 35,000 refugees, and to inspire young people to enter social justice work.

The latter seems to be on the upswing judging from the response she has been getting. “This project has a life of its own. Everybody wants to work on this project,” said Andres.

Among donors is a boy who called from Connecticut the other day. He had raised money climbing a mountain, while a Southern California woman is selling hand-held rocks painted with “Save Darfur” slogans.

Money has come from all sorts of places from “all over the United States,” beams Andres, who oversees the operation in Africa a half-a-world away from her garage-turned office in the back of her McCadden Place home.

While both Rachel and her husband—Ben Tysch, chief administrator of Planned Parenthood L.A.—went to UCLA, the Texas native met her husband after she graduated with a political science degree.

With her parents as inspiration, she has always wanted to help people. She worked for years at the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. After her son Ezra, 10, was born she was a consultant before joining JWW. (Daughter Rebecca is 7).

Never again. That was what everyone said after the holocaust. And yet, there have been 30 genocides since the end of World War II. When it was witnessed in Sudan, JWW was formed with a coalition of 60-area synagogues, Andres said.

About 250,000 Darfurian refugees have fled Sudan for Chad, where about 39,000 refugees live relatively safe in two camps. But women and girls, traditionally the wood gatherers, were being raped and beaten when they left to search for firewood to cook the family meals.

Under Andres the project has grown to include two manufacturing plants distributing 15,000 cookers. Trips to collect wood (which had been disappearing at an alarming rate) have been cut by 86 percent. The project has also brought some financial stability to the region, where refugees are trained to make the cardboard-and-foil portable cookers.

The project’s founder—Dr. Derk Rijks—continues to run the program on the ground, watching it grow from a small Dutch organization to include two medical clinics and dozens of water wells.

While thousands of cookers warming rices, bean and sauce in black pots under the blazing sun have made an impact, challenges remain. During a visit to Chad last October as part of a three-member evaluation team, Andres was devastated by what she saw.

Besides living without electricity or running water, refugees rely on the World Food Program. Yet about half of the vehicles carrying staples are stolen by Darfur rebels.
“You hear about Darfur, and it’s so devastating. Here’s something you can do to help,” says Andres. For information visit, or call 818-501-1836.