A cardboard box is saving the lives of thousands of people in Africa. It’s called a solar cooker, and it is pure ingenuity. Take two pieces of cardboard, add some tinfoil and sunlight—and anything can be cooked. You can even get water to boil.
With the help of thousands of Americans, solar cookers have found their way to camps in Chad that house refugees who fled the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. More than 250,000 live in these camps, each sheltering about 20,000 people.
The cookers have made a huge difference—and not just because they are a way to heat food. Without them, refugee women must go outside the camp to gather firewood. But to leave camp is to gamble with death. Women and children—especially girls—are “particularly vulnerable to attack and rape when they are out getting wood,” says Rachel Andres, director of the Solar Cooker Project at Jewish World Watch. The equation is simple, she says. A solar cooker keeps you in camp, and that helps keep you alive.
The numbers back this up. A recent survey at one refugee camp showed that journeys to collect firewood outside the camps dropped by 86% after the solar cookers were made available.