By Dana Fleitman, Program Coordinator
Over 2500 solar cookers are helping secure safety and economic self-sufficiency for women in Chad thanks to Shelby Layne. At 22 years old, Shelby is a student at Barnard College with an innovative non-profit jewelry business that has raised 100 thousand dollars for the Jewish World Watch (JWW) Solar Cooker Project.
“I heard about the Solar Cooker Project when I was 15,” recalls Shelby. “I heard that 40 dollars would provide two solar power cookers, and thought that maybe I could save my babysitting money and help a family.”
The Project helps refugee women who fled genocide in Darfur and live in dangerous camps in neighboring Chad. Women are particularly vulnerable to rape and violence when they leave the camps to collect firewood, and the solar cookers eliminate the need to leave camps, reduce dangerous ashes breathed in from wood-burning stoves, and help economically empower the women who manufacture the stoves. “I’ve seen women’s lives change because of this project,” reflects Shelby.
Shelby realized that she could have a larger impact than just babysitting money. “I had learned to make jewelry, so I started to make jewelry, sell it and donate the proceeds. As I was making my own jewelry, I looked through my old jewelry that I no longer wear… my mom did the same. I started sending some information about Darfur and the project out to people, and people sent in all sorts of beautiful jewelry pieces as well as checks. Those who donated were excited to come to the sale and see what else was there, and people were excited to check their own drawers…this business model has brought a lot of people in and raised about 100 thousand dollars for the cause.”
Shelby feels that her desire to give back and help others is a natural outgrowth of her Jewish upbringing. “Some of the values I was brought up with…tikkun olam, tzedakah and giving back…these were values I heard about my entire life. It felt very natural to me that I would give back, especially when people lack fundamental human rights.”
Shelby explains the thinking behind her project. “The Project is about learning about a cause as well as financially supporting a cause. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, there’s a lot of remembrance, recognition and quiet thought, and that is crucial. But there also needs to be a step two where we think about what we can do to avoid future genocides. It’s not just saying, ‘oh Rwanda, what a shame!’…If I feel this distraught over a genocide that my people have faced, I need to ensure that I help other people so that they don’t have to feel this way.”
Learn more about Shelby’s jewelry at www.sbljewelry.com.
Genocidal violence impacts women and girls worldwide. Genocide is defined as the intent to destroy a certain group, and systematic rape has become a deliberate weapon strategically used in places like Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) helps the United States lead a global response to gender-based violence. Learn more and urge your representatives to support IVAWA today.