Excellent Development's former Programmes Officer, Emma Seal, returned to a Kenyan community to see what difference 18 months, a rock catchment, a school tank for a local secondary school and three sand dams have made.

After raucous laughter and many handshakes over my badly pronounced Kamba greetings, we settle on a boulder next to their well-tended farmland. The group currently has 35 members and has been active since 2013. They have constructed a rock catchment, a school tank for a local secondary school, and three sand dams, the last being completed last month. Their work was supported by Medicor Foundation, and the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission. It is clear from meeting them that the group are as motivated as ever, despite the hard work they endure.

"From the money we’re getting from the sales of vegetables (and the skills that we acquired from sand dam construction), we’ll be able to construct our own houses."

Chairman, Umanthi Nthangathini self-help group.

Challenges

Chatting to the group I ask about the difficulties they encountered with the most recent sand dam. John Mulungu, a group member, explains that “the major challenge that we faced during construction was sand. The area has no sand so we had to buy it.” As the Africa Sand Dam Foundation’s (ASDF - Excellent's partners in Kenya) projects begin to have further-reaching impacts, the local government has become increasingly keen to assist. John mentions this: “The county government helped us with three tipper lorries (of sand). The other challenge was water. But luckily, we had water in this older sand dam. All the water that we used for construction is from here.”

Empowering women

A highlight from my previous trip was learning about the changing attitude to women in the local community. The construction of the rock catchment enabled members to observe women carrying out tasks more traditionally completed by men, building a foundation of respect. Group members nod emphatically as I ask if this has continued. “The respect is still accorded. That attracted members from outside who are willing and they have seen the good work.” ASDF’s programme provides women with the space to demonstrate their abilities and is helping to gradually change attitudes in communities.

Improving education on agriculture

The group members are keen to emphasise what they’ve learned from ASDF about agriculture and agro-forestry. “The plants we have planted along the terraces - they don’t dry up. During planting, the spacing that we know... that leads to high production.” An interesting side effect of tree planting, aside from stocks of timber and income production, is that “it will give us good shading once they are big, and it gives good air condition.” In a country with such a hot climate, shade is vital to prevent sun stroke and minimise dehydration, especially with children and the elderly.

Looking to the future

Before departing, I ask the group about their picture of the future for their children. “Our kids will never lack water like we have suffered from. These kids will not go for long distances, searching for water,” says John Mulungu who adds, “We have already set the foundation as parents, so we are expecting that our children will start from here, already having water, so they’ll start with the second step which is maybe to supply water within their own homes.”

Several women grab me by the arm and speak in Kamba. Mutindi, ASDF’s Communications Officer translates, “The most important thing that we have learned is water, sanitation, and hygiene. We have learned to dig toilets in our homes. We have known how to wash hands before eating. We have learned that with proper hygiene, that one can reduce diseases.” I ask if incidences of water borne diseases have gone down since the projects began. The response is a resounding yes.

As we step through the scrub and acacia thorns down to their newest sand dam, the group clamber up and around the structure. The group’s chairman stands watching, looking proud. “The major project that we’re hoping to do in future is to have our own house, a rental house. From the money we’re getting from the sales of vegetables (and the skills that we acquired from sand dam construction), we’ll be able to construct our own houses."

It was a pleasure to be able to meet the Umanthi Nthangathini group again and see the results of their continued hard work. Looking at what they have achieved in only three short years, I have no doubt that their hopes for their children and future generations will be realised.

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