Excellent Development's former Programmes Officer, Emma Seal, returned to visit farmers Stella, Stephen and their farms – which have flourished further over just a few months thanks to nearby sand dams.

As we stand in the shade alongside one of Watuka self-help group's sand dams, hot wind rustles the leaves of the heavy, green trees above me. Overlapping birdsong carries in the air and the sun’s heat raises the scent of turned earth and pollen. The clearing is divided into key activity areas, each marked by small wooden signposts indicating the potting area, the seedling stand, the storage area. I am joined by the chairman of the group, Stephen Mwanzia, and group member Stella Nduku. Both are long-standing members of the group and have worked hard to transform this area from the brown, dry, and dusty wasteland into the thriving farmland I can see before me. Stella Nduku, farmer and member of Watuka self-help group, southeast KenyaI spoke with Stella previously about her shallow well (read that story here) and have come back to see how the group is faring.

"Kaite River used to be the main source of water before the sand dam. It used to take three hours. I used to go three times a day... But now water is close, my home is nearby, so I have all the time to do other things."

Stella Nduku, farmer and member of Watuka self-help group, southeast Kenya.

Watuka has constructed three sand dams since the group was created in 2013. They were supported by Rotary Club of Easthampstead and supporting clubs, and by the UK Government. Currently, they have a membership of 21 community members and have seen big changes in the area since water became more readily available. Stephen explains that “one important impact as a result (of the sand dam) is... there is a lot of sand. It was not there before. The result of the sand is we have a lot of water. The three sand dams combined made this.”

Before, local community members struggled to fetch water and had to walk very long distances over rough, dangerous terrain. “Kaite River used to be the main source before the sand dam. It used to take three hours. I used to go three times a day.” Stella notes. “But now it is close, my home is nearby, so I have all the time to do other things.” Shallow wells have enabled locals to extract large quantities of water from the sand dams. Stephen gestures to the concrete cylindrical structure on Stella’s land. “This shallow well has always been having a lot of water, all year round.”Stella Nduku

Since our meeting earlier in the year Stella has managed to implement further profitable technology. “When I dug the shallow well I planted a lot of vegetables which gave good money in the return. So I bought a plastic tank to store water. I continued planting vegetables and got more money so was able to construct a stone tank.” Connecting the two concrete structures is a pump, rumbling away as it sucks clear water from the well up into her storage tank ready for irrigation. Mutindi, Communications Officer for our partners at the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF), points out that Stella has learned how to fix and maintain the pump without any assistance. Her land is clearly thriving as we walk amongst the neat, lush rows of vibrantly coloured peppers, kale, tomatoes and onions. The smell of fresh crops is wonderful. “From the vegetables I can feed my family comfortably.” Stella also sells her harvest for income. “With the money I have opened a new shop in the market so all the vegetables I take there.”

I ask about the impact her successes have had on other community members. She smiles, “There are so many of the members... constructing. Another member has dug a shallow well down there. And another down there. Most of them, that’s what they’re doing.” Non-members are also learning from members. “They come to each other for advice asking, ‘Is it possible to pipe water from your shallow well to home? How deep did you dig your shallow well to get enough water?’”

The proactive approach of Watuka's members has not gone unnoticed. As we clamber down to the river below the sand dam Stephen explains that “the county government of Makueni... came to the group, the government officers came and asked... ’what do you do with the organisation which has been funding you for the sand dam?’ We explained to them that we plant vegetables, trees, and build sand dams. (They said) we will provide you with seedlings to plant trees... to change the environment.” Government organisations have shown significant interest in ASDF’s programme over the past year as self-help groups produce unusually lucrative outputs from their work. I ask Stephen what sparked their interest in Watuka. “Already they had seen we have water from the sand dam, and we had trees from ASDF.” Impressed by the results, the county government provided the group with extra stocks of seedlings which are now lined in orderly rows under a low-lying, straw covered framework shading the young trees. The group were keen to make the most of local support and put in a request for a water tank. It was accepted readily. “So it is easy for us. We pump more water. There is a shallow well, we fix pipes to that and pump water to (the tank).”

It is easy to become excited by the work of people like Stephen and Stella, especially when presented with armfuls of shining, fresh peppers standing in this secluded valley, alive with colour. However, it is just as easy to forget the hard work they went through to reach this stage; the number of Sundays they worked through, missing the church service which forms the backbone to their community, in order to complete the sand dams before the rains. But it's all been worth it, as they have provided a long-term legacy to their children and future generations, a different way of life, more hope.

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