Published in May 2023

Our new Programmes Manager, Sophie Wotton, shares highlights from her first trip to visit some of our sand dam projects and beneficiaries in Kenya.

I joined the Sand Dams Worldwide team earlier this year as Programmes Manager and was fortunate to be able to visit Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF), our strategic partners, in February and to meet with several of the self-help groups involved in our programmes in Kenya.

Sand Dams have immense potential here, offering dryland communities an avenue through which to achieve water security and in doing so opening up opportunities that enable communities to build the future they want for themselves. Travelling with ASDF across the Kitui and Makueni counties of Kenya I was struck by the commitment and dedication of the people we met as well as the long-term sustainability and scalability of sand dams as a rural water harvesting solution.

“The rains here are seasonal and they may come or may not come. When they do come they just wash everything away and the community did not have the knowledge on how to harvest water and so people had such a water scarcity challenge. We decided we needed to do something to prevent the water from arriving and just rushing away to the ocean. Water issues here are also affecting poverty, so we decided to mobilise the community and to start to do something (ourselves)”

Joshua and Jenifer Nzueni, Uvilani Central self-help group members, southeast Kenya.

During the trip we visited the first sand dam to have been constructed by ASDF and Sand Dams Worldwide (then Excellent Development) back in 2010. Over 12 years on, that sand dam (pictured below) has become part of the landscape with a wealth of sand built up behind its wall and water still safely stored in the sand.

To see people collecting water with ease, despite Kenya enduring a devastating drought which has seen the failure of the last five rainy seasons, was incredible and an inspiring testament to the potential of sand dams to effectively serve local communities.

We also met communities at the very beginning of their journey with sand dams. In the Iiani community, who were busy digging the foundations for their first sand dam and gathering the local materials, we heard from the community about their aspirations.

“Now we are on the ground for the construction of our sand dam this is a great step ahead. We have plans to establish pasture plots and to improve our economic livelihoods and we have a plan for agriculture which will improve our livelihoods in the future. The impact I see with the dam is one, time will be reduced for collecting water, two, water will be of great quality and three, we will be able to plant trees and to change the area here!”

John Mutinda, Iiani Village self-help group member, southeast Kenya.

For me one of the unique and indispensable aspects of ASDFs model is the facilitation of visits between communities working on sand dams. Meeting with others at different stages of their sand dam journey creates the opportunity for people to hear about all aspects of sand dam projects directly from their peers who can share their experience and provide insights for a new community in a way that truly enhances learning, manages expectations, and strengthens community ownership. It was great to hear from communities about how important this had been in their preparations ahead of embarking on sand dams in their communities.

The trip was an invaluable opportunity to hear directly from people involved in the work we and our partners support and gave an incredible insight into the way sand dams can be integrated with climate-smart agriculture and environmental protection training to enable communities to transform their own lives and land.

“Now that we see a water secure future many of us will go to our farming and do more at our homes, the environment will improve, and the area will be good. Tree planting is something I have taken to my home and I have been able to start a tree nursery and to sell some as well and I also have a kitchen garden.”

Ruth Syanda, Muthini Upendo self-help group member, southeast Kenya.

I am thrilled to be working with the incredible Sand Dams Worldwide team and all of our amazing and dedicated partners to deliver on our ambitious goals of influencing the implementation of 1 million sand dams for 0.5 billion people by 2050!

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