Excellent Development's former Programmes Officer, Christopher Purnell, visits one of our latest sand dam projects in Zimbabwe, meeting a local volunteer who can't wait to benefit from the nearby water source.

Whilst travelling through Matobo I couldn’t help but be captivated by the awe of the rolling hills and the naturally occurring rock formations that look to be placed into position due to the balancing act that is their improbable arrangement. However the feeling was bitter sweet as most rural areas in the Matobo district experience severe drought with access to water a major problem. Excellent Development is currently piloting two dams in the area supported by Jersey Overseas Aid and the Isle of Man International Development Committee, working with the Nxele and Nyoka communities to make these areas water secure.

Matobo is a place steeped in both modern and evolutionary history. Its national park plays habitat to wildlife such as zebra, rhino and giraffe is also home to the Matobo Hills, a world heritage site that features in many of the important historical events that shaped the modern nation of Zimbabwe. However Matobo’s significance stretches far beyond the modern era, dating back to prehistory with evidence of human culture from as early as the Stone Age.

"Many children are not going to school because they can’t pay the fees, so even the income they will be getting can go to pay the school fees."

Kingdom Ncube, Nxele sand dam volunteer, Zimbabwe.

The Matobo Hills show off the highest concentration of prehistoric rock paintings in Southern Africa dating back to 13,000 years ago, depicting illustrations of hunting methods and socio-religious beliefs that are an insight into a lost culture. Although Christianity is prominent in the area, the Mwari religion that dates back to the Iron Age is still practised to this day, an oracular tradition that uses the Matobo Hills as sacred shrines. All of this collectively coupled with the knowledge that humans have dwelled here for millennia gives the area a mythical feeling. Despite the wonder and cultural significance of the Matobo district, food and water scarcity is a major challenge in the lives of many of the people that currently reside here.

At the Nxele dam sight I met with Kingdom Ncube, a 28 year old man that volunteers his time to work on the construction of the sand dam. The dam is under a kilometre from his house, whilst the current nearest water source for drinking is a borehole that is over 3km from his home. Kingdom told me of how he wants to establish vegetable gardens in his community but “for now there are few gardens because of water problems and the dam that many use for gardens is an open dam but it is too far from us... 10km away from my home.”

As well as providing a valuable food source, Kingdom talked of how “employment is a problem and we will start building gardens using the water, many can benefit.” This income will have a knock on effect to other aspects of life as well, as Kingdom put it, “Many children are not going to school because they can’t pay the fees, so even the income they will be getting can go to pay the school fees.”

Being water secure has a positive impact upon many areas of everyday life, aspects of life those with water on tap take for granted. Kingdom and the people of Nxele’s hard work on the construction of the dam will go a long way to securing his vision for his community. There is huge potential to further implement sand dam technology in this area that is steeped in culture, and having spoken to representatives of the local government and our partner that works in the area, there are many communities interested in building their own sand dam.

Could you donate today and supply more communities with the tools, hardware, support and guidance they need to build a sand dam, providing themselves with a lifelong supply of water?

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