Published in September 2013

Walking on Water

In 2006, broadcaster Alison Bell ventured to Kenya to document our work with rural communities. The resulting film, ‘Walking on Water’, told our story of sand dams, opportunity and hope to new audiences all over the world. It gave a voice to the people we support and enabled us to give a hand-up to many more of the world’s poorest people living in rural drylands.

Speaking of that time, Alison said: “It was an amazing experience for me. Life changing, in fact.”

Eight years later, Alison has returned to Kenya to catch up with some of the people she first met while making this film.

Alison said: “It's just been astonishing to see the way that we've helped so many communities and individuals to meet their personal and group aims. There's fresh water, there's terraces for the land, there's trees planted for the farms, people are growing their own food. They're no longer dependent on anybody. They can be self-sufficient. That's the whole point of Excellent.

Tomatoes for school

"We followed up with some great people this trip. Muendo, for example, who I interviewed eight years ago. He was growing tomatoes, [with water from his community’s sand dam], those tomatoes were paying for his children's school fees, and now his eldest daughter Pauline is at university in Nairobi.”

This is the opportunity and hope that sand dams create. They give people a hand-up, a chance to lift themselves out of poverty and achieve their goals, improving not only their own lives, but also those of their families, communities and countries.

Alison said: “And, it's the future of Africa now we have to look to. What are these young people going to do with their countries?”

Life-changing sand dams

The simple brilliance of sand dams has impressed Alison since she first saw them. She told us how she has seen lives transformed:

“Lives are transformed because of the time no longer spent trudging for water. The stories we heard from people like Esther [a member of the Ithime self-help group] who spent years walking with women eight hours [a day] for water, where women were giving birth on the side of the road for goodness sake - miscarrying on the side of the road. I mean, they were really tough times and some areas still have to do that, especially areas where we're not working.

“Esther in particular said to us that she could wash every day - she felt clean - something so small, but we all know how nice it is to be able to wash yourself in clean water. She said: 'And to be able to see my grandchildren clean - they're clean - because they've got water and they can wash'”.

Hand-ups, not hand-outs

In 2013, Alison became a trustee of Excellent Development. She told us: “I'm very proud to be associated with an NGO that gives so much more than just hand-outs: It gives hand-ups to people where they give them the ability to take care of themselves, to become self-sufficient, teach them the skills to make sure that they don't really need our help any more.

“I guess the perfect day is when we're not needed here anymore. That's certainly our aim and we're going a long way towards achieving it.”

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