Former Excellent Development Programmes Officer, Christopher Purnell, reports from a small community in southeast Kenya, who have attained greater health and opportunity for education thanks to sand dams and livestock projects...

The members of the Mutethya self-help group (SHG) are based either side of one of Kenya’s most notorious roads that connect Nairobi to Mombasa. This road is full of life, characterised by the views of wildlife such as impala and zebra, the stream of lorries, vibrant buses, and flocks of camels making their way to the coast.Muthethya farmers with the livestock in southeast Kenya

I arrived at the chairlady of the SHG, Juliana Mutiso’s house, and then the heavens opened. Torrential downpour rained down, which is abnormal due to September being within the driest period of the year. However, it was short lived. This unpredictable weather sums up what has been experienced in the area for a number of years. Juliana told me of how the area has not had a prolonged period of rain for three years, one of the worst droughts experienced in recent history.

"Prior to sand dam construction, there was a big issue with waterborne diseases, with David telling me harrowing stories of a child dying from serious bouts of diarrhoea. With disease less prevalent in the area and increased energy levels from the improved nutrition, school attendance has gone up in the area."
Christopher Purnell, Programmes Officer, Excellent Development.

Despite the lack of rain, the sand dam the community built in 2011 is retaining enough water to provide water for the surrounding communities’ domestic and drinking needs, as well as giving life to agricultural projects for the 20 members of the SHG. David Mutie, 67, spoke of how the increased agricultural work has changed the lives of families in the area.

David spoke of how both the clean water being consumed from the sand dam, and the more diverse diet (resulting in improved nutrition), has put a halt on the health issues the community was facing. Prior to sand dam construction, there was a big issue with waterborne diseases, with David telling me harrowing stories of a child dying from serious bouts of diarrhoea. With disease less prevalent in the area and increased energy levels from the improved nutrition, school attendance has gone up in the area.

Not only has having access to a sand dam increased daily school attendance, but also increased the number of children enrolled in school. The funds generated by selling the surplus crops grown have been used in conjunction with funds generated by the livestock project started in 2012 by SHG members to pay for school fees. And as a result, all of their children of school age are in school! This is something that David described as unthinkable before the projects were introduced to them by Excellent Development our partners in southeast Kenya, Africa Sand Dam Foundation.

As part of the livestock project, the Mutethya SHG were given four goats including one breeding buck. This project has been very successful with over 100 goats in the community, as well as sheep and cattle that have been purchased with the money generated from the initial four goats. Juliana, the owner of 11 goats and four sheep from the project told me how they use the livestock as a form of bank. If there is an emergency, or the community needs to pay for school fees, they will sell a goat or two. I’m told that this project has transformed their lives, especially during very stressful times when the drought is at its worst.

The combination of the livestock project and agricultural work is not only sending children from the community to school, but young adults to university. David Mutie very proudly told me how his son was currently studying Food Science and Agriculture Bsc at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture, and how this would not have been possible without the funds generated from the projects. Juliana also stated that her son, Shendrick Mutiso, was in his last year of school. When I spoke to Shendrick, he spoke of how his plan is to go to university to become a doctor, which put the biggest smile on his mother’s face.

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