Grant Vermeer here:
Today was awesome! We had the privilege to visit RDI (Research Development International) and learn about the amazing work they are doing here in Cambodia. I must say that I left RDI very excited and truly touched.
Throughout the entire tour I was amazed and inspired by the work, passion, and dedication that this organization has for the Cambodian people. The director and his wife moved to Cambodia a few years ago, leaving behind a comfortable life in the US and each leaving a job boasting 6 a figure income, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this hurting country. I admire this couple greatly for their full dedication to God and his plan for their lives.
During our visit to RDI we learned about many different programs they have. Each program is so unique, exciting, and truly inspiring. I would love to share about all of them but I’m going to have to stick to one. Access to clean water is one of the biggest problems in Cambodia and accounts for tens-of-thousands of deaths (that can be easily prevented). Only 10 years ago 1 in 5 children didn’t live past the age of 5, while that number has decreased, still today 1 in 12 children don’t live past the age of 5. Most of these children are dying because of illnesses they got from the water. Many different organizations around the world are focused on drilling wells in poor communities (I’m sure we are all familiar with these organizations, especially around the holidays) for $1500 or so. They come in, dig a well, and leave. The community in most cases is never educated about the new well and most times the well drilling organization doesn’t do it’s “homework” before it drills. RDI works to test the water in wells from communities from all over the country, they have teams on the ground daily doing testing on wells. Many of the wells drilled by these other organizations are doing more harm than good. Because of the lack of testing and research, many of these wells have extremely high levels of arsenic in the water. In some cases the levels of arsenic has been found to be 3000ppb (parts per billions). Compare that to the United Sates and you will find that the US government only allows our water to have 10 ppb of arsenic. It made me really sad and kind of angry to think that this is happening and that the local people are being harmed because of careless development.
To combat water problems RDI over the years has developed an AMAZING system (http://rdic.org/water-ceramic-filtration.php) that is low cost and very effective. They are made of clay and crafted right here in Cambodia by local workers. You can read more about the filters in the link above. These water systems cost $12 and can filter 2.5 liters of water per hour in to clean, safe, and healthy drinking water. Now $12 sure sounds like a bargain, but to the people who need this the most it is very expensive. Most of the families in rural Cambodia are making less than $1 per day, which gets spend almost entirely on food.
Rather than rely on outside funding to give away the filters (which also creates dependency), RDI has created a micro-loan program as well as a very strong education and follow up program. They are teaching healthy habits and safe water practices to the villages and creating relationships with the locals in the village in hopes of one day being able to share the gospel with them. We heard many stories of relationships from the filters turning into questions about Christianity, which in many cases have led to new relationships with Jesus Christ! Praise God!
This model of relationship building that RDI is following is one of the best models of development I’ve seen on this trip. Building trust through empowerment is what the world needs for its physical health as well as its spiritual health. Nobody is going to listen to your talk about Jesus unless they are given an example of what God’s love looks like. The Cambodia people need love and compassion though a “Jesus figure” in order for them to question the motives and actions behind the development work. This questioning process leads to an open door and an open heart in which to share the love of Christ with.
The goal of development isn’t to go in, use “western” practices to modernize the world like many people may think. Rather developments goal is to empower and sustain communities with the necessities for life here on this earth but more importantly the eternal life to come.