Monday, January 14, 2008

Secular Franciscans, Solar Cookers and Darfur

Harness the Sun: Solar Cookers
Living in Darfur: Mattafix with Intro by Desmond Tutu

Ask and then listen! That is what yesterday taught me. I was meeting with my formation director, John Cooper and our small group of folks from our Secular Franciscan fraternity, the Holy Family Fraternity. We were answering the questions in our study guide. Mainly we were talking about the positive values of Franciscans, peace-making, valuing all of creation, appreciation of beauty and joy. We were especially focused on the humility of the Incarnation and the sacrifice/gift of the Passion.

All of this then came down to a question of application. If we are grateful then what are we doing to show or express that gratitude? Our fraternities, like all fraternities are suppose to be involved in service projects. We have been having some difficulty finding a project we can all agree on, that meets our abilities and time limitations. We wondered if perhaps we should have multiple projects and then report back to the fraternity on what we actually accomplished. The balance was between doing and not becoming fractured. Still the apostles had multiple missions they worked on. The early friars were all over the place, hence their dramatic growth. Both groups made sure them came together to then discuss their accomplishments and challenges. Perhaps that was a model we should consider.

After our meeting we walked over to Campus Ministry and joined the entire fraternity for our regular monthly meeting. Today was special. We had guest speakers, Stephen and Sheila Harrigan. They are members of Fellowship Missionary Church. Sheila is a local nurse. Stephen grew up in Western Africa and is very involved in humanitarian issues related to Sudan and Darfur. Today they were demonstrating the reasons and uses of Solar Cookers.

Steve explained that in the refugee camps fuel for cooking is scarce. Folks have to go outside of the camp to find trees for cooking. The area is desert, what few trees that can be found will be dug up, even their roots will be used for cooking fuel. The problem is, when the women go out into the desert looking for wood the Janjiweed militias rape them. The women can not admit to being raped, so they return traumatized and simply state they were beaten. Should the male refugees go out looking for wood, men and boys, they are killed. Solar cookers are one answer to a horrible situation. The cookers allow folks to simply use sunlight to cook food, there is no need to go out and place one’s self in danger. There is no need to increase the already rapid rate of deforestation.

Steve showed two videos of training Darfur refugees in how to use of the cookers. The cookers are ingenious. They are made of cardboard, reflective material and glue. The food is placed in pots painted black to hold the heat. The pots are place in plastic bags to hold the heat and deflect cooling wind and then the food is placed on the cardboard cookers. There they sit for a few hours and then the food, the rice, millets, breads, cakes, soups, stews are cooked! It was so simple, so inexpensive and so “do-able.”

Steve lived and traveled throughout Africa, his impressions were formed by a desire to care for others. Steve and Shelia were clear, we are called to care for our Islamic brothers and sisters who are hurting. They were clear that there is nothing simple or to be gained by playing the “us-them” game. The current government is trying to survive. It is not the government that allowed Al Queda to live in southern Sudan. It is not the government that sold southern Christian Sudanese into slavery in northern Islamic Sudan. Some of the very people that are being helped in Darfur were involved in the slave trade. The Janjeeweed are only one of multiple groups in conflict. This is a nation in transition that has also suffered greatly from a generation of civil war.

Steve spoke of the refugee problem in Khartoum. He told us how southern Sudanese who could, fled to the capital and now the outskirts are suburbs of poverty and huts. These people spend one third of their yearly income on food fuel and increase the deforestation of the southern Sudan which is rain forest. The solar cookers are of use to these folks as well.

So, our guest told us how we can offer one simple bit of assistance to the people of Darfur. How we are called upon to help our suffering Islamic brothers and sisters and should feel compelled to come to the aid of our hurting Christian brothers and sisters in Sudan.

We were looking for a project. Well, we have options. We can assist in the marketing of Darfur Solar Cookers. We can help make the cookers. We can donate money to purchase material and transportation of the cookers. One cooker cost $5.00. A cooker, two pots and a year supply of bags costs $30.00. $30.00 and a mother or daughter can avoid situations in which violence and rape are likely, valuable trees are not cut down and family financial resources can be spent on health or educational needs.

We asked what service projects we could participate in and then we were told. Can’t get any clearer then that!

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