Stella Nduku is a member of the Watuka self-help group based in a small valley in southeast Kenya. Inspired by the availability of water from their sand dams, Stella planned, designed and constructed her own shallow well on her land near to the dam. Now she has easy access to water for farming and her land is green and flourishing. The group as a whole has seen the results of their hard work in improved harvests, better nutrition and strong community relations. Excellent's former Programmes Officer Emma Seal reports...

‘One finger cannot kill a louse’

The Watuka group was formed seven years ago by three local villages keen to work together on environmental conservation, raising the standards of living, and 'supporting each others’ activities' (also known by the community as ‘one finger cannot kill a louse’). Until recently, water has been scarce, saline, and contaminated. “We had not a pint of water” explained the group’s chairman, Stephen Mwanzia (read Stephen's story here). Community members were forced to spend over five hours collecting water which was then used with limited knowledge to work their land. A lack of education and scant access to water led to low personal hygiene and a prevalence of disease.

Adamant to change the situation for future generations, the 41 members sought support from Excellent's partners, the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) in 2013. Since then they have constructed two sand dams (built with support from Excellent, the UK Government, East Hampstead Rotary Club and supporting clubs) and been trained in hygienic practices and sustainable farming activities such as terracing. Their land is being transformed and family life has improved. Stephen explained how it was before 2013, “Most of the time parents leave children at home alone to go and fetch water far away, this seems like a punishment to them.” With water close by, parents are able to spend more time with their children, enabling a more stable upbringing and helping parents to pass their new skills and self-belief on to their children.

Stella Nduku of the Watuka self-help group, southeast Kenya

Thanks to the knowledge and confidence gained in sand dam building, Stella Nduku is now leading by example, not only for the women but her community as a whole.

Positive change for women

Kamba culture traditionally considers decision-making to be a male task, meaning that women mainly focus on child-rearing and crop planting. However, ASDF ensure that women are central to the planning and construction of sand dams, providing them with space to prove their abilities. Stephen noted that, “they were working faster than the men, they got respect for how well they could work.”

This builds confidence which enables women to succeed at tasks they may not have normally attempted. Stella Nduku for example, owns land close to one of Watuka’s sand dams. Motivated by her experiences during sand dam construction and by the now readily available water, she decided to build her own shallow well. In August 2015 she and her son dug out and walled a 15 foot by 3 foot shallow well in three weeks. With a good understanding of how much water her crops would need, she then installed a generator to pump the water to her land.

Motivated by success

Stella explained that she had wanted to build a shallow well before the group had begun to work with ASDF but she wasn’t sure how and didn’t know of anyone that would have the knowledge. To ensure her project was a success, she asked advice of an ASDF field officer who was able to assist her in the design. She ran into some problems along the way especially once word spread that she had access to water as locals began stealing from the well at night. However, she notes, since the well doesn’t run dry it has not yet presented her with a problem.

With an eye to the future

Now planting drought-tolerant varieties of crops and practicing new techniques on the group demonstration plot, group members are growing in confidence and improving the quality of life just as they had hoped. The group learned from Stella’s success and requested support from ASDF to build a community shallow well. It is now in its final stages and is expected to further assist community members with farming, water for drinking and raising standards of hygiene.

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