The Charles Bronfman Prize Awarded to Humanitarian Rachel Andres
Rachel Andres, 45, took the podium at New York’s Morgan Library & Museum to accept The Charles Bronfman Prize 2008 in recognition of her humanitarian contribution to female survivors of the Darfur genocide.
She did so in the presence of distinguished guests including Mahamoud Bechir, Chad’s ambassador to the United States; Daniel Sullivan, Canada’s consul general to the United States and a delegation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, lead by Director Pierre Bertrand.
Against the Library’s Renaissance-style palazzo, Rosalie Silberman Abella, the first Jewish woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, described the background which lead a panel of eminent judges to select Andres as this year’s recipient:
“Rachel’s phenomenal contribution has been to transform despair into hope for thousands of surviving victims of Darfur’s genocide. The particular contribution she made was to address the degradation and dehumanization of the female refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps to get the firewood they needed for cooking. Under the auspices of Jewish World Watch, Rachel Andres devised a plan. The strategy was solar cooking. At a cost of $15 per solar cooker, whose construction required only cardboard and aluminum, these economically viable cooking alternatives protected the women from having to leave the camp, contributed to their psychic restoration, and empowered them. It was both stunning in its simplicity and breathtaking in its success.”
Justice Abella continued: “The impact of the project was not just in the heroic reduction in danger for the refugee women, but also in the educational tributaries it inspired. All over America, young people began organizing fund-raising events to contribute to the Solar Cooker Project. What Rachel created was affordable philanthropy. It taught youthful fundraisers not only how spiritually satisfying it was to make a difference, it gave them the satisfaction of knowing that even a small contribution can make an enormous difference. Thousands of Darfuri women, thousands of American young people, brought together in humane solidarity by the tenacious commitment of a woman not only raised on the core Jewish values so heartbreakingly donated to humanity’s moral code by the atrocities of the Holocaust, but prepared to implement them. The judges settled on Rachel Andres as the recipient this year of the prize established by Charles Bronfman’s children to honor his name, his compassionate legacy, and the universality of his Jewish and humanitarian values.”
Former Israeli Minister of Justice Dan Meridor, a Prize judge, addressed the audience and noted the timeliness of the Prize ceremony which coincided both with the sixtieth anniversary of Israel’s independence and with the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “These two developments – one universal and one particular – stem from the same basic values,” Meridor noted. “Both have to do with human rights and the resolve to fight for a just cause, be it personal dignity and liberty for all human beings or national dignity and liberty for all nations. It is these values and qualities, devotions and commitment that the judges were looking for, and found in Rachel Andres. And, this is the life-story of Charles Bronfman, in whose honor this Prize is awarded.”
Meridor also reflected on the breadth of fields and quality of candidates who were nominated this year. “The nominees represented stories of exciting humanitarian efforts in a wide range of human endeavors: medicine, science, technology, education and culture, human rights and social justice. It is heartwarming to learn that there is so much good in this world, that there are so many young people dedicating themselves to helping people in need to fight injustice, to build a better world for all of us. Rachel took personally and seriously the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed 60 years ago.”
Stephen Bronfman, Charles Bronfman’s son, emphasized the humanitarian mission behind the Prize. “We chose to spotlight and celebrate people who have done remarkable things in their lives and who have had great impact not only in the Jewish world but globally to promote their values and great deeds. We want to showcase people we believe to be modern day heroes, humanitarian stars.”
He concluded, “My sister Ellen and I have always thought of our father as our hero. Now, the recipients of The Charles Bronfman Prize have become his heroes.”
Ellen Bronfman Hauptman, Charles’ daughter, added, “When we came up with the idea to create this Prize, we could not have imagined what it would become. It has been humbling and inspiring to be introduced to the lives of the Prize nominees” She continued, “For us, the Prize is about our Dad and his humanitarian values. We are so proud of his example, which is shown through his leadership and through his vision of doing good in the world. This Prize is about identifying and nurturing the talents of not only our generation, but of the generations to come.”
In her acceptance speech, Andres described her emotional journey in launching the project. “I sat at my computer and read every story and report I could find about the plight of the women of Darfur,” she said. “And I cried. I cried for the women and girls and I cried because I thought, how can a small grassroots organization 15,000 miles away make a difference?”
Two years have passed, and the Solar Cooker Project (SCP) has helped over 5,000 families survive by minimizing their exposure to violence. An evaluation trip in October 2007 found an 86% reduction in the number of journeys taken by women and girls outside of refugee camps that have been the focus of SCP’s initiative. Andres and her colleagues presented these and other data showing the success of the program to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees offices in Geneva, where relevant bodies are now considering participation.
Pursuing the Jewish maxim, do not stand idly by in the face of the suffering of others, Andres, a native of Dallas who now lives in Los Angeles, searched for an international solar cooker organization working on behalf of Darfuri refugees until she eventually made contact with Solar Cookers International and Dr. Derk Rijks of KoZon, a small Dutch organization which agreed to collaborate with JWW. With a partner to execute the project on the ground, Andres and her team at JWW raised over one million dollars, largely in increments of $30, enough to provide each family with two solar cookers, through countless grassroots fundraising efforts.
Andres pledged to use the Prize money to advance the Solar Cooker Project and to help recruit the next generation of activists to pursue “the work of tzedakah, this work of social justice for all.”
Andres also addressed Charles Bronfman directly. “Your lifetime of work in so many arenas, but most especially in inspiring the next generation, is astonishing,” she said. “Most people can be proud if they inspire their children. You have the honor of inspiring a generation.”
The Prize celebrates the vision and talent of an individual or team under 50 years of age, whose humanitarian work has contributed significantly to the betterment of the world. Its goal is to bring public recognition to young, dynamic individuals whose Jewish values infuse their humanitarian accomplishments and provide inspiration to the next generations. It is accompanied by a $100,000 award. The Prize was privileged to receive nominations from 16 countries this year.
Rachel Andres is the fourth recipient, and the first woman to receive the Prize. For more information about prior recipients and accomplishments, please visit www.thecharlesbronfmanprize.com.