Sand dam foreman Charlie Taylor documents his first ever sand dam experience whilst working with communities in Kenya and our strategic partners, the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF).

My first experience of seeing a sand dam being built was incredibly inspiring; around 300 people working incredibly hard for the benefit of themselves or their neighbours. Three community groups had come together with a team of staff from ASDF to build this ‘extra large dam’. We assembled at 4:30am to pack and board. It was a long way to the site of this dam and when we got there at about 8:30am there were already hundreds of people hard at work.

"I have come here to learn about sand dam construction and could not have had a better start... Every time it is the community effort and community spirit that amazes me."

Charlie Taylor, sand dam foreman.

The ASDF field officer had worked with the community group for some months previously helping them work out what the group wanted to achieve and how best to do it. The ASDF sand dam coordinators helped the group to find the best site for the dam, come up with a design and deal with the paperwork. Artisans from ASDF supervised the excavation of the foundations down to the bedrock and the construction of the timber form work. The community self-help groups had gathered a huge tonnage of massive stones all found or broken from the river bed and carried by hand to close to the dam. Sand would be dug from the bed of the river as needed and in this case, water was available (although sometimes that all has to be brought in to the site).

This dam was a big one. It will use over 1200 bags of cement, tonnes of sand, tonnes of rock as well as steel bars, barbed wire, timber and hand tools. The biggest contribution without doubt though is the huge physical effort put in by all concerned.

The willingness and determination of the hundreds of pairs of hands on site to work through the day was a truly inspiring experience.

After the bedrock had been cleaned, watered, drilled (again by hand) for the steel reinforcing, it was dusted with cement and then the mortar was shovelled in. Teams of around 20 people mixed by hand two tonne batches of sand and cement to a fixed proportion and fluidity monitored by the artisan builders. When it was about 50cms deep the huge stones were lifted up onto the form work and toppled into the trench splatting into the mortar. When sufficient stone had been added the artisans climbed in and positioned each stone. More, smaller stones were added to achieve a dense layer with their points sticking upwards.

Barbed wire is then used to help bind everything together twisting in and out of the reinforcing rods and the stones until the dam manager is happy. Then the next layer of mortar is added and slowly the layers are built up.

The local community groups didn’t leave the site until it was 9pm and pitch black. Two days later they will be back again to do the next layer.

I have come here to learn about sand dam construction and could not have had a better start. Since then I have seen lots of dams in various stages and have worked on a couple more. Every time it is the community effort and community spirit that amazes me.

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