In February 2020, Excellent's Fundraising and Admin Assistant, Uilliam Barrow-Retallack, visited Manyanga Farmers Field School in southeast Kenya. He reflects on the community's plans for their sand dam and their achievements several months on.

The experience of the Manyanga Farmers Field School is a perfect illustration of how sand dams can transform a community’s future prospects. I was fortunate enough to visit this group in February 2020 and witness first-hand what the group members were doing to improve their lives.

I arrived in the early afternoon of an incredibly hot February day, at least compared to those I was used to. The community were hard at work on the final stages of their very first sand dam and were using shovels to mix concrete before flinging it into the dam shutters (shuttering is the sand dam mould to keep the cement in place while drying). Having spent a short time working on a similar dam site the previous week, I can attest to the physical effort involved in mixing concrete without machinery. However, the community members proceeded without complaint, even cracking jokes and smiles as I wondered how they were able to keep this pace and motivation.

I received a friendly welcome and a round of introductions from the group leaders before they began to tell me some of the history of their self-help group. The Manyanga Farmers Field School had been formally established in 2019 but had grown out of local community groups that had sought collective solutions to water poverty since the year 2000. The local people had struggled with water scarcity going back for decades and faced growing problems with each passing year, as climate change contributed to ever more unpredictable weather patterns. Without a nearby water source that they could access year-round, the community knew that their situation would only become more difficult over time. Despite great effort, including attempting to design and build their own sand dam, they struggled to find durable solutions to their water problems.

Listening to their story I tried, with little success, to imagine the frustration and concern that their situation would have caused them during this time. I found myself confused not only by this experience that was so far removed from my own, but also by the fact that I could not see signs of this difficult struggle in the attitudes and personalities of the people around me. The community did not seem angry or tired from their struggle, but full of a hope and energy that I found hard to explain.

I enquired about their current situation and their experience of working with our partners, the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF). The community members told me that upon learning about ASDF’s work, they reached out and attended a briefing workshop of theirs in 2019. After agreeing their project, they began receiving seeds, tools, and training sessions from ASDF in sustainable agricultural practices like land terracing. They told me that results were already being seen with good harvests and successful tree plantings this year, with plans already in place for the next harvest. The water from their soon-to-be new sand dam was a central part of these plans; I leave having been uplifted by their hopes for the future and looking forward to hearing more about their achievements using the dam.

Several months pass and we received news from ASDF in August 2020 that Manyanga Farmers Field School were already starting to see benefits from their sand dam since completion. Not only was the water provided by the dam helping with continued improvement in agricultural yields, but the nearby water source was also now reducing the length and number of trips to gather water by significant amounts. Community members reported improved health and eating habits thanks to the water quality and crop variety they had been able to achieve using their sand dam. Thanks to the greater yields enabled by the dam, many community members were now even making profits from selling their produce.

Simeon Nzuki - Manyanga Farmers Field School SHG

“This project has been very instrumental to me and my family in terms of creating money and good eating habits. I can only say thank you to our donors, for their support has really touched our lives in this village.”

Simeon Nzuki, 60, Manyanga Farmers Field School self-help group member.

The contrast between these success stories and the struggles I heard of during my visit to Manyanga Farmers Field School was remarkable. The positive outlook I had seen among the community members now seemed to make more sense; they clearly understood all along what they could achieve as a community. Their sand dam project was just the boost that they needed to overcome the challenges posed by their environment, enabling them to improve their own lives and plan for their futures. Their story is one that I will certainly always remember as an example of how powerful something as simple as clean water from a sand dam can be.

Please consider making a donation to Excellent so we can empower families in drylands to build brighter futures for themselves with sand dams and access to clean water

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