Raphael Thole, secretary of his community’s sand dam committee in southern Malawi, shares his experience of overcoming adversity and water scarcity through hard work and belief in the value of a sand dam project.

As the secretary of his local sand dam committee, Raphael Thole has been deeply involved in the sand dam project in Group Village Headman (GVH) Thomas from the very start. The 30-year-old father of two spoke with our partners Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD) about the changes he has seen during the project, starting by telling us why he first got involved.

"When CARD came to introduce the project, they recommended that we choose a committee so that activities regarding the dam could be managed through that committee. The community of GVH Thomas elected me as a secretary for the committee. I am young and active so with the nature of the project requiring active participation, communities thought I would assist them."

Raphael described to us the difficulties of daily life before the sand dam project began, when there was little water available nearby to his village.

"On a typical day, I would wake up at around 6am to go to my garden and work there. It was usually my wife who would collect water, but typically she would take around 90 minutes depending on the number of people at the borehole. The distance is long and the water is salty. This has been a challenge not only in my family, but in other households too."

On top of the challenges in their daily lives, the community members in GVH Thomas also faced difficulties during their sand dam project, as Raphael explains. 

"Sand dam construction began just after cyclones Ana and Gombe had affected us and our crops, causing hunger in many households. The construction of the dam itself was hard. When it was starting, I saw it as a lot of hard work which would be difficult to finish. However, we managed to construct it and I now see it as our biggest achievement."

Extreme weather is a major concern for people living in southern Malawi, particularly as it continues to be exacerbated by climate change. Under these conditions, it becomes even more crucial for communities to have a reliable water source to support their food security. Raphael expands upon the challenges his community faced.

"We planted a lot of trees in the first year of our project, but a prolonged dry spell followed which made many trees wilt. In the second year we planted many more, but they did not do too well either because of too much rain from the cyclones. Thankfully we did not face any further disasters and have now managed to raise many trees which are doing very well."

Since completing their sand dam, communities in GVH Thomas are enjoying access to their new water resource. Raphael shares the difference he has seen.

"We are now able to collect clean water that is not salty. My children like the taste of the water from the sand dam and prefer it to any other source. As a family, we anticipate the dam will assist us more in the future. I think life will continue to change as the years go by."

A crucial change in peoples’ lives has been to their health, as Raphael claims the combination of clean water and training from CARD in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) has greatly assisted his community.

"Despite the country facing a high number of cholera cases, my community has not had any as of now. I think we have to attribute it to the training in water and sanitation from CARD and community health extension officers. I am hopeful that the knowledge we have gained, plus the dam we have constructed, will sustain the good health status of this community."

Further training was provided by CARD in conservation agriculture, supporting local farmers to change the way they farm for the better. Raphael spoke of his experience or this training.

"I used to farm in a traditional way and did not know much about methods like mulching and using manure. Now I can make manure, do box ridges, plant in pits, and in fact I am now a lead farmer in my community! I have applied these techniques in my garden and managed to get good harvests, despite the dry spells."

Raphael was particularly passionate about the progress he and his community have made with tree planting, with further training from CARD in this area.

Raphael Thole - GVH Thomas"We were not used to planting and caring for trees as a community. However, the project assisted us to plant trees which are now growing well. CARD trained us to establish tree nurseries and later how to care for trees. Now it is like a dream. We have been able to raise tree seedlings on our own and now the area promises to be greener in a few years."

Raphael Thole, secretary of the GVH Thomas sand dam committee, southern Malawi.

Raphel concludes by reflecting on the whole project and speaking of his hopes for the future, as he plans to grow the income he gets from farming.

"I plan to spend the income I make on paying school tuition fees for my sister, renovating my house, and other household needs. I feel proud to have achieved what we have been waiting for. Seeing the sand dam and knowing that we achieved its construction makes me happy. That is why we will be using it together as a community."

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