Two inspiring women living in rural drylands share how sand dam projects have empowered them to develop their farms, support their families and each other.

In rural Kenya, it is often seen as a woman’s job to fetch water. Every day.

Their families rely on them to provide the necessary means to prevent life-threatening diseases and malnutrition. And without water, they would struggle to eat, drink and stay clean. But accessing clean water is not a formality for everyone...

Before the construction of a sand dam, women like Esther Sungo and Christine Mutisya walked a gruelling two hours, each way, to reach the nearest river and well. Four hours was stolen from their day, plus the time spent waiting in long queues for water from the river, a source which was contaminated (Christine is one of many to have contracted bilharzia from the water there) and relied upon by many other communities in the surrounding areas.

"Having water near our homes killed 20 birds with one stone."

Christine Mutisya, Malaika self-help group, southeast Kenya.

With 14 children between them, there seemed no escape from the arduous duty they carried out to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy, and alive. They remember leaving their homes, alone, as early as 3am, feeling “vulnerable” in isolating darkness, just to ensure they collected enough water.

But things are different now.

Fast forward 12 years since they joined Malaika self-help group, they tell a happier story with beaming faces. Christine explains how “having water near our homes killed 20 birds with one stone.”

The journey to collect water has been reduced to half an hour each way. Gone is their anxiety over having to fetch water overnight. Precious time saved from the journey is now invested in agricultural training, farming and creating beautiful homes. Plants and trees now flourish in the area, providing a variety of different fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, oranges, papaya and mangos. Their community also has improved nutrition, with vastly reduced cases of waterborne illnesses.Esther Sungo

All of this has also led to significant financial gain. Higher quality livestock from better farming now generates a greater return at the local market that averages at around 8,000 Kenyan Shillings a month. In addition, they have a group bank account they can access to pay school fees for children.

"I am now more developed than I was before and all this makes me happy.”

Esther Sungo, Malaika self-help group, southeast Kenya.

Esther and Christine are reaping the benefits of sticking with the project, despite facing challenges along the way. Over 350 members started in their group, only 26 remain (including Esther and Christine), but they have brought new life and a wealth of opportunity to their community. As rural women trying to eke out a living in drylands, they have gone from feeling vulnerable, to being empowered and respected role models, with Esther concluding, “I feel that my thinking has broadened since we started working together. I am now more developed than I was before and all this makes me happy.”

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