The Heka Heka Syomwambya self-help group started out with the aim of building four sand dams, which has since been made possible with generous funding from The Isle of Man Government and Rotary Clubs. With construction underway we met Veronica Mwende Mutua, a member of the group since 2017, to discuss what improvements she and her community hope they will enjoy post completion.

For as long as Veronica can remember, the nearest water source to her village has been River Athi, which carries with it numerous problems for the community. It is a five-hour walk away and water fetchers, usually women, can spend up to 10 hours a day collecting water. They cannot rely on livestock to ease the discomfort of the journey, as Veronica explains “they (the livestock) will be affected by diseases which affect the animals when they don’t have enough water in their bodies” meaning “sometimes there were no donkeys to go and fetch the water, (the community) would not get any access to the water because it is a distance. You cannot fetch using your backs, so it was difficult for the community to access the water.”

When community members did make the journey to the river, it could last from 6am until 6pm. Veronica says, “When we come back we are so tired we cannot do another job,” often resulting in the abandonment of important domestic upkeep.

“When we get water we will grow watermelons, kale, tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables that are not applicable like this when you have little water.”

Veronica Mwende Mutua, member of Heka Heka Syomwambya self-help group, southeast Kenya.

Another problem is the health implications that come from drinking contaminated water from the river. Waterborne diseases such as typhoid have crippled the community and caused many to suffer. Children’s education is jeopardised due to illness, and because they are required to take water to school in order to attend.

Now, there is an air of positivity in Heka Heka Syomwambya and the community have many aspirations for after the sand dam’s completion; “When we get water we will grow watermelons, kale, tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables that are not applicable like this when you have little water,” says Veronica.

Other farming activities that they are supported to engage with include digging terraces, growing drought-tolerant crops and starting tree nurseries. Plans are also being made to utilise any increased income with the hope of supporting community farming developments. She also mentions the children saying she hopes “within the next five years to come the children will improve their living standards and also their environment will change.”

Speaking on behalf of the community Veronica says they are “very happy” because “they know they will get access to water and they will not travel the long distances they used to.” She expresses her gratitude to the Isle of Man Government, Rotary and Sand Dams Worldwide supporters, and urges them to “continue to support with the projects of the sand dam construction which will change their lives for the better.”

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