Following on from his second blog, Excellent's former Programmes Officer, Christopher Purnell, reports from his final three days of working with communities in Mozambique to build sand dams...

Day Three – Preparing the sand dam wall

I returned today to see that numbers hadn’t diminished; there were over a hundred people on site. Participation needs to be high as this is a ‘super-large dam’, predicted to be using around 1,000 bags of cement.

"Traditionally carrying rocks (used to increase the strength of the sand dam wall) is seen as a women’s job here, but I wanted to get involved. Grasping the rock against my chest, I struggled for the 300+ metre walk with the large stone, and with it came great respect for the strength of the Nyungwe women."

Christopher Purnell, former Excellent Development Programmes Officer.

Traditionally carrying rocks (used to increase the strength of the sand dam wall) is seen as a women’s job here, but I wanted to get involved. Grasping the rock against my chest, I struggled for the 300+ metre walk with the large stone, and with it came great respect for the strength of the Nyungwe women. At one point during the day I was passed by a young woman carrying an equally large rock on her head, casually chatting to her friend, whilst leaving me struggling behind in awe.

Day Four – Arrival of materials

I arrived at the site at the same time as the materials. Materials such as cement that will be the main body of the dam; steel bars to be embedded into the bedrock coupled with the barbed wire for reinforcement; and nails and wood that will give the dam its structure during construction.

Everybody was united in one goal today; to organise the materials and start to put up the wood structure. With this unity came a real sense of community. The day was filled with laughter and singing.

Although the main purpose of the work is to provide water security, this sense of community is a secondary benefit to sand dam projects that cannot go unnoticed. I’ve seen firsthand how young leaders emerge through the way they handle themselves on site, and have been told how the project allows women to get together and be empowered when normally this is a rare occurrence. It is these unexpected benefits that have shown through today. A structure that somewhat resembles a dam is in place and everybody is encouraged by the visible progress.

Day Five – Cementing a better future

As I knew it was my last day on site at Chacalanga I decided to learn yet another trade, mixing cement. It typically takes around 25 litres of water to create mortar from one bag of cement, and a lot of elbow grease. Using a shovel we constantly fold the cement and water until we reach a consistency that can be added to the steel reinforcements along with the stones the community have collected. 35 of the 1,000 cement bags were mixed on the first day, a drop in the ocean but progress was very notable.

My five days with the Nyungwe is up. I have learned a lot not just in terms of dam building skills but also from the work ethic and the sense of unity in both communities I spent time with. I look forward to the day I return to see the completed dams in all their glory and how they have enabled these communities to transform their lives.

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