When Brett Medlin set off with a mission group to Cambodia five years ago, he did not expect to create an international organization.
After doing mission work for three years, the Baton Rouge native found out about a small village of impoverished people with no housing, running water or electricity.
“We decided we wanted to start going to places where no one else was going,” Medlin said, during a recent visit to Louisiana. “Just by going there and being willing to meet the need in that one village, everything else kind of grew from that.”
Two years and 84 new homes later, needs are being met.
Medlin is the founder of Rock Foundation Cambodia, a Christian nonprofit organization that works to repair, rebuild and bring hope to communities.
The foundation’s first project was in Phnom Baset village, where Medlin and other foreign volunteers built houses and toilets and provided water filters, mosquito nets and medical care. Now Medlin employs a different tactic.
“I think that we’ve learned from the experience and have a better strategy now about the locals through the process,” he said.
For the most recent project, Medlin uses donations to provide salaries for locals as they construct their own homes. The project involves the residents of Borei Keila, a village whose 136 families sought refuge after being forcibly evicted from their homes. They were forced to move 30 miles away to a displacement village with no infrastructure.
Their land was worth much money despite the slums built upon it, and the Cambodian government kicked them off to give the land to private companies who would develop the area for profit, Medlin said.
Some of the families received 12-by-36-foot lots as compensation, which is not enough room for any kind of farming, he said, adding other families received nothing.
“They were hopeless at that time and desperate,” Medlin said.
The Rock Foundation has built more than 40 homes and 15 toilets for the displaced families.
Each home is a single 16-by-14-foot room. They are built on stilts to prevent flood damage, which is prevalent during the monsoon season. The stilts also give the families a place to gather and cook below the house.
Medlin said each home’s frame and roof will “easily last for 10 years,” with wall material being replaced after about four years.
The cost of each home with a solar panel and light is $525. The project also involves providing an outhouse-style toilet for each family with a septic tank that can be emptied by a vacuum truck. Each outhouse costs about $150, Medlin said.
The foundation has also purchased more than an acre for those who received no compensation from the government. Part of that land will be used for a school and a community center, Medlin said.
Though a Christian message is a big part of the foundation, Medlin said acceptance of the message is not a requirement for aid. Cambodia is majority Buddhist country, so those who show interest in conversion are the minority.
“If the people want to join, that’s great. If they don’t want to, we’re still going to do what we can to help them,” Medlin said.
Medlin spent about a month in the United States, before returning last week to Cambodia. It was his first trip back home in three years, but wasn’t a vacation. Medlin has spent his time spreading the word, raising money and going through training to build and repair water wells.
A church in Houston, one of Medlin’s biggest supporters, plans to buy a drilling rig to bring clean water to the villages.
Though most of Rock Foundation’s board resides in Houston, Medlin has kept some of the most important jobs close to home. His father, David Medlin, of Baton Rouge, is secretary/treasurer of the foundation and set up the organization as a 501c3 nonprofit corporation, which means contributors may be eligible for tax deductions.
Medlin’s Cambodian wife of three years, Sithan, is the operations coordinator.
The two met through Sithan’s brother, an English professor whom Brett Medlin mingled with before he learned the language.
Brett Medlin’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. The United Nations caught sight of what the Rock Foundation was doing, and began to monitor the situation.
The U.N. is now going through a procurement process to provide materials for 110 toilets. It will be a collaborative effort, with Medlin providing labor costs and workers to build the outhouses.
The project with Borei Keila is Rock Foundation’s main focus for now, but Brett Medlin said he maintains a presence in past villages by employing a staff and a pastor to stay there.
“We’re over there trying to meet the immediate needs of the people, but we don’t want to overlook the spiritual needs,” he said.
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