Excellent Development runs sand dam expeditions every year, but somehow they never quite become routine. The resilience of the self-help groups and the first-hand experience of the hard work and community spirit involved in building a sand dam is a fresh inspiration to everyone, whether they are one of our experienced tour leaders or a first-time expeditioner. 2014 was no different.

Seeing what it’s all about

The group of nine expedition members arrived in Kenya on 7 September where they spent one memorable and busy week with our partners, Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF). To get a better idea of what sand dams are all about, they started by visiting a number of self-help groups before embarking on their own building project.

One of the communities they met was the Kumina Wauni self-help group. Before the community build sand dams, they had to walk 6kms to find water. Now they have six dams, which provide them with enough water to operate a fish pond that generates a good income, grow vegetables and manage demonstration plots to try out different farming techniques - a fantastic example of what sand dams can achieve. 

Time to do some work

After visiting a few more projects, it was time to meet the Athiani Farmers’ group and embark on three days of dam building. This, the expedition group would agree, was both a lot of fun and very hard work!

Due to the location of this particular site, huge boulders had to be moved from the top of a hill cliff and pushed over the edge to drop down to the dam site. Sometimes they were so big it would take a few people to move them with all their strength. Success was often celebrated with the universal ‘high five’ and the occasional outburst of singing and dancing. 

Sand dams can be built surprisingly fast, considering that everything is done completely by hand. On the first day the group just saw a deep trench, which then slowly filled with cement, followed by the big rocks to strengthen the dam. With so much exhausting work going on, you wouldn’t expect much laughter, but we were told there was a great deal of happy energy going around!

Having a ball

When all the hard work was done, members of the Athiani Farmers’ group decided to throw a party to thank our expedition group. There was much to celebrate - not least that the sand dam will now provide the community with a reliable source of clean water close to home, for life. There were speeches, an impressive feast, thank you gifts and of course plenty of dancing, hugging and thank yous!

"It’s been an enormous satisfaction to see this dam being built. When we arrived it was just a hole in the ground, and really quite quickly it has grown to the point where you can almost call it a dam. It’s a tremendous satisfaction to me - and I think for everyone else - to see that we have contributed something that’s actually going to change a community."

Peter Shipton, September 2014 sand dam expedition

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