New Soweto Community

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Sand Dams in Kenya

Latitude -2.61
Longitude 38.08

500 Served

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Stories and Community Profile

This project is being implemented by our partner African Sand Dam Foundation, and includes the construction of a sand dam.

Below is project information direct from our partner:


New Soweto self-help group was formed in the year 2013.The group was formed by amalgamation of two villages that is Soweto and Sombe Village. The group has a membership of 33 people. The group is located in Muthingiini sub-location, Nzambani location, Mtito-Andei division, Kibwezi district in Makueni County. Makueni County is one of the 8 counties in Eastern Kenya and one among the 3 counties in Ukambani region. The county borders Machakos to the north Taita-Taveta to the south, Kitui to the east and Kajiado County to the west. The main economic activity of the area is farming and livestock keeping

The county covers an area of 8,008.75km2 out of which 474.1km2 form the Tsavo West National Park and 724.3km2 forming Chyullu Game Reserve. It has a population of 888,527 and 186,478 household Census 2009.

The district is characterized by extreme rainfall variability. Typically, good seasons are interspersed with extremely dry seasons and variations in the onset of rainy season add to the difficulty of ensuring adequate food production. The district has two rainy seasons which peak in March/April (long rains) and November/December (short rains).

Reasons that led to formation of the group are:

 – Water Scarcity. They came together in order to seek for assistance for water harvesting technologies. Through coming they wished to have a sand dam in their river channel.

 – Tree planting. The community members would like to conserve the environment by planting trees. The trees will be source of income especially the fruit and timber trees and provide fodder for their livestock.

 – Soil conservation. They envisioned reclaiming their farms by terracing them to control soil erosion. Terracing their farms would help to improve their yields despite minimal rainfall by conserving soil fertility. This is because most of the group members are not able to afford fertilisers to increase fertility of their farms.

The main challenges that the community faces are

1. Water insecurity
2. Poor harvests due to increased changes in climate characterised by frequent and prolonged droughts, reduced annual rainfall, lack of farm inputs i.e. quality seeds for planting, increased soil erosion leading to poor soil fertility, lack of skills and knowledge on climate smart agriculture.


The main water sources for the community members are River Sombe, private owned shallow wells and Muthingiini water pipeline. These water sources are more than 1km away from the community members. During the dry season most of community members rely on privately owned shallow well and pipeline. River Sombe only retains water during the rainy season necessitating community members to rely on the privately owned shallow wells and pipeline. The shallow wells during the dry season have a low water table and the water turns saline hence not suitable to use for cooking and livestock. The community rely on the pipeline for drinking water. In order to get to the water kiosks one has to cross Mombasa-Nairobi highway, which pose threat to the children even at sometimes leading to death. The water retails at KES 3 for 20 litres, which is not affordable to most community members. During the dry season there are long queues at the water kiosk causing increased time of more than 2 hours due to queuing.

Due to Water shortage the other related changes are:

Lack of water results to low tree survival and growing. The community cannot be able to plant trees on their own and once they plant they wither up.

Poor farming methods. In the dry period farmers spent a lot time fetching water. More than 5 hours are lost in a day to water fetching activity. This necessitates them not to prepare the farms adequately and also terracing them in time reducing their harvest.

Low personal hygiene levels. The water is not sufficient for domestic purposes thus their hygiene level for such members are poor and at times they go without cooking because of lack of water.

High incidence of water borne and water related diseases. The quality of the available water sources is highly polluted as humans and livestock all use these sources. Livestock waste such as urine seep in the water sources leading to contaminated water


The main crops that community grows are:

– maize

– green grams

– pigeon peas

– cowpeas

The community rely on rain fed agriculture for food production. Unreliable rainfall in the area has contributed to food insecurity. Other reasons that have led to food insecurity in the area include:

Lack of knowledge on improved farming methods. Farmers lack skills and expertise on improved farming method as they practise traditional farming practices. Also many farmers lack terraces because they do not have the tools and do not have the ability to buy the tools.

Pests and diseases. As a result of climate change the farmers are experiencing new diseases that have been a challenge to them. Most of the farmers cannot afford the pesticides thus affecting their crops. For example like the pigeon peas one needs to spray severally in order to harvest.

Lack of quality seeds. Most of the farmers rely on unscrupulous dealers who have uncertified seeds hence this affects their harvest. Also pest and diseases has also affected the availability of seeds because most of the farmers getting low yield.

Tree Planting

Community members plant various trees, which include:

– Moringa

– Neem

– Mango

Farmers experience challenges on tree planting:

Lack of knowledge on tree planting and care management. Most of the farmers lack knowledge on care management of trees. This necessitates the trees to dry often because the farmers dig holes, which are not standards. Also lack of poly tubes to propagate the trees from the nurseries limit the number of trees they can raise.

Water problem. Due to lack of water the survival rates still remain low as trees dry up especially during the dry season.

Termites. Termite infestation has posed a big challenge to tree planting as they continue to hurt the tree program. Farmers also are not able to buy the termite chemicals, which are expensive.

Future Plans

Sand dams. Community seeks to create water security through building of sand dams. The sand dams will help to improve the availability of water for domestic use and vegetable growing which will help them to improve their incomes.

Tree planting. With availability of water the community members will plant trees in their farms.

Soil conservation. Through the support of tools the community will embark on a terracing program on their farms. This will help to conserve soil and improve their harvest despite low rainfall.

[Editor’s Note: GPS coordinates for this project have not you been obtained.]

Project Photos

Recent Project Updates

04/14/2015: New Soweto Project Complete

We know you have been waiting quite a while for news from the water project in New Soweto, Kenya.  We are excited to report that all construction is finished. The sand dam is complete and has already collected water during the seasonal rains.  The shallow well is finished and is providing clean water. And the community has received training in sanitation and hygiene, which will help stop the spread of disease in the area. Just imagine the impact all of this work will have!

We just posted lots of new pictures. Take a look, and Thank You for your help!

The Water Project : kenya4301-121-shallow-well

09/25/2014: New Soweto Sand Dam Complete

We are very excited to bring you a great progress report from New Soweto, Kenya.  As the report below from our partner in the field states, the sand dam is complete!  That means that, when the next rains come, the water table in this area will rise, bringing water for farming, and feeding the shallow well that will also soon be built.  Take a look at the report, and don’t miss the new pictures we just posted. 


Construction Log:

  • Materials Collected: 4/17/2014 until 5/22/14 in which 43 men and 44 women worked.
  • Trenching: 5/23/14 through 5/30/2014 in which 41 men and 44 women worked
  • Sand dam construction 5/31- 6/11.  40 men and 45 women worked
  • Curing: 21 days

Sand dam construction update

During construction the group members attendance declined greatly due to the members attending the construction of another projects done by the local administration. The project was giving cash for work so majority of the members opted to attend and work on this.

The groups has since been mobilised to start on farm terracing on their individual farms so as to conserve soil and water. To date the group has been able to dig 150 meters of terraces on their farm with their annual target being 1300 meters. This target will be met as terracing for communities across the area mainly picks up from August to October before the start of the rains.

The group is also expected to resume with tree planting by establishing their tree nursery by the end of August. Currently the water level in the community is low and we expect the tree nursery to take time before they are fully established.

Work still on-going.

The community plans to start the digging of their shallow well. Initially the community was requesting to have the shallow well fitted in their old dam (first dam) but it was agreed to by the SHG members keep it at this specific dam site.

Since the group has completed the sand dam, in September the group will be taken for a learning visit to another SHG and dam site to learn on the utilization and benefits of growing vegetables with water cultivated through mature sand dams.  


  • The time and distance spent in fetching for water will greatly reduce from 2km to less than a kilometre. Time spend to fetch water will be less than 30 minutes for the community.
  • With water the community will plant more trees, vegetables and generate income.
  • Shallow Well Status:
  • Terracing:
  • Tree nurseries:
  • Challenges:
  • Solutions:

Thank you for your help!

The Water Project : kenya4301-102-dam-complete

06/10/2014: New Soweto Project Under Way

We are excited to announce that a new water project has been begun for New Soweto Self Help Group in Kenya.  The project includes the construction of a sand dam as well as training in sanitation and hygiene, and development of improved farming techniques.  We just posted an initial report from our partner in the field including information about the community and pictures.  Take a look, and Thank You for your help.

The Water Project : kenya4301-19-second-members-grandmother-and-daughter-in-the-kitchen-2

Monitoring Data

Project Type:  Sand Dam
Location:  Central Kenya
ProjectID: 4301
Install Date:  11/27/2014

Monitoring Data
Water Point:
Last Visit: 12/20/2017

Visit History:
06/05/2015 — Functional
04/29/2016 — Functional
08/30/2016 — Functional
12/20/2016 — Functional
06/12/2017 — Functional
09/13/2017 — Functional
12/20/2017 — Functional

Cassava For Breakfast

March, 2015

“With more dams, more terraces, more trees and the freed up time that we used to spend in fetching water we will soon start having cassavas and pearl millet porridge for breakfast once again!”

“I miss cassavas for breakfast and pearl millet porridge. This was my breakfast for the last 69 years. For the last seven years however I have not been able to have this kind of meal. This meal was healthy, nutritious and it’s part of the reason why I am still strong though old. The main reason behind this-my farm cannot produce these crops anymore as the rains have greatly reduced and getting quality seed varieties are hard to come by. We no longer have time for our farms as most of the time is spent on fetching water.” This is the opening remark to a conversation I recently had with Susan Thambi of New Soweto self-help group.

New Soweto self-help group was formed in the year 2013.The group was formed by an amalgamation of two villages that is Soweto and Sombe Village. The group has a membership of 33 people. The group is located in Muthingiini sub-location, Mtito-Andei.

“Fetching firewood was a delight to many women. This was the time we used to bond with other women from the community. We would gossip about how our families are doing while easily getting firewood from our farms. But today fetching firewood is a nightmare. An activity that used to take 30 minutes now takes more than 5 hours! For those whose farms have no trees they have to part with at least Ksh 150 equivalent to $ 1.8 dollars a day in order to buy either firewood or charcoal for domestic use. This is hard to come by as most households earn less than a dollar per day.”

Clearly these few remarks paint a very grim picture of the daily struggles that these women go through. From interacting with the women, most of them are the main providers of their families as their husbands have left for the urban areas to look for ‘greener pastures’, which in most occasions are not green. So I inquire from Susan on her daily routine or program.

“I wake up at 5 am to prepare breakfast for my grandchildren. I am currently staying with four grandchildren who are aged between 6-12 years old. Their parents are living in Nairobi. They have porridge for breakfast and leave for school carrying 5 litre water jerricans to be used for school purposes. This is because the schools don’t have access to clean water. In most occasions the water is bought or they fetch it on their way from school, about 3 km from our home. After the children leave for school I pack the donkey with four 20-litre jerricans of water and trek for three hours to the nearest river to fetch water for domestic use. I make three trips to the water point in order to have enough water for washing clothes for the children. By the time I have completed the trips it is almost 3pm. I rarely have lunch. Lunch for me it’s like a luxury. After fetching water I spend another three hours looking for firewood in order to start preparing supper. I make an effort to at least have the supper ready by 7pm and we all go to bed before 8pm as staying up means using more paraffin, which is used to light up the lamps. And this is costly. The routine begins the following day, month, and even years.”

As she narrates her story I keep thinking of how these women are struggling to make ends meet for their family. This story portrays resilience, which is vital for survival in the wake of a changing climate. Even as she narrates her life there is a sense of passion and hope – no resentment or disappointment, as one would expect.

Out of nowhere she exclaims, “Thing have changed though, things are changing. We recently formed a self-help group that would enable us to work together to construct sand dams, and eventually plant trees, terrace our lands and gain knowledge on how to improve farming techniques within this changing climate and live well despite the hard ships. I now spend less than 2 hours to fetch water, because of the sand dam. I have time to plant tree seedlings, terrace my farm, go to the market, and attend merry go round meetings that enable me to save some money. It has not been easy but at least life is now better than it was a few years ago. With more dams, more terraces, more trees and the freed up time that we used to spend in fetching water we will soon start having cassavas and pearl millet porridge for breakfast once again!”


Dinwiddie Middle School
West Side School
San Ramon Valley High School (Act Right Club)
Romig Middle School (Pacific Team)
Gary D. Jewel Middle School
Mrs Calender's 3rd Grade Class at Fulton Academy of Excellence
St. Thomas Aquinas School
Mindoro Lutheran Church
Sterling Middle School
Pine Island Middle School
Kahiau Project (Kamehameha Schools)
West Prairie Middle School
Vincent Massey Community School
A.B. Miller High School
Hauser High School
Gettysburg High School
De La Salle Institute Seniors
Kimberly High School
The Teachers of Simi Covenant Preschool
AT&T Employee Giving Campaign
The Madden Family Fundraising Page
Reb's Reformation Run
CCSA 6th's Grade Fundraising Page
Jennifer, Emma, Alexis and Veronica's Fundraising Page
66 individual donor(s)

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Country Details


Population: 39.8 Million
Lacking clean water: 43%
Below poverty line: 50%

Partner Profile

Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) supports self-help groups to harvest and conserve water through construction of sand dams & shallow wells, rock catchments and school roof catchments.