Project Status

Project Type:  Sand Dam

Regional Program: Southeastern Kenya WaSH Program

Impact: 500 Served

Project Phase:  In Service - Jun 2019

Functionality Status:  Functional

Last Checkup: 05/08/2024

Project Features

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On the day of our first visit to Kithoni, the weather was cold and chilly. It was drizzling by the time we arrived to meet with Ukava wa Kithoni Self-Help Group (SHG).

This is a peaceful, rural set-up. The homes are made of bricks and some are made of mud and grass-thatched roofs. The roads leading to most homesteads are steep and rocky. Some households host extended families where the land is subdivided - equally granting each son or daughter a portion for establishing their own family. This particular region has a population of 1,050 people.

The most common livelihoods are farming, raising livestock, horticulture, beekeeping, and motorbike taxiing. Most homesteads farm cowpeas, pigeon peas, maize, beans, and green grams. Young men engage in casual labor such as farming for other families, construction projects and carrying luggage for travelers. Motorbike businesses are popular in this region, with most young men between the ages of 20-30 owning one for business. Other families solely depend on remittances from relatives to survive. Small businesses such a vegetable vending and liquor stores are common ventures too. After finishing their education, youths mostly migrate to urban areas in search of better job opportunities, leaving behind their parents to work on the farms.

But everyday activities are disrupted by long, arduous trips to find water. Most rivers in this area are seasonal. Once the rains end, there is a lot of water runoff that renders tons of gallons lost. The community members have to walk for long distances in a bid to fetch water. They have to dig very deep scoop holes in the sand until they find it. These scoop holes are left open, exposing them to a myriad of contaminants such as animal urine, soil erosion, and farming fertilizer. This exposes the community members to waterborne diseases.

Most community members live two kilometers or less from Kwa Makiti River, but its water table is very low. Once the rains cease, the river dries up completely and the members are often unable to attain water there. They are forced to then walk to River Kikuo which is approximately four kilometers from their village.

Water is collected from the scoop holes using 20-liter jerrycans. The community members ferry them using donkeys. For the members without donkeys, they have to carry the water on their backs or borrow donkeys in order to ferry many jerrycans of water at a go.

Water is stored in tanks with different capacities depending on the family's finances. Most tanks have capacities varying between 1,000 liters to 10,000 liters, but some households just store their water in the same jerrycans they used to ferry it.

"I need five 20-liter jerrycans of water a day to survive since I have three children. Unfortunately, I do not have a donkey so I have to borrow one from my neighbors and it can be inconveniencing to some extent," shared Mrs. Miriam Mwende Mumo.

"Going to fetch water while carrying the baby on my back is very exhausting, especially due to the distance covered. The water fetched is also not clean as it is attained from an open [hole]. At times the queues are too long and we have to wake up very early which risks my child to dangers of catching a cold or other respiratory complications."

What we can do:

New Knowledge

We will hold hygiene and sanitation training sessions with Ukava wa Kithoni SHG, which are also open to non-members. These will teach about important hygiene practices and daily habits to establish in the community at the personal and household levels. Taking good care of self and environment will make for a healthy community.

Baseline Sanitation Facility Coverage:

Latrines 90%
Handwashing Stations 10%
Clotheslines 90%
Dish Racks 60%
Bathing Area 70%
Animal Enclosure 40%
Proper Garbage Disposal 30%

Most households have poor compound hygiene and their general hygiene and sanitation standards are low. In relation to this, they need improvement on compound hygiene, effective water treatment methods, handwashing training, soap making lessons and knowledge of disease transmission routes. The members of this group seem to have little knowledge on hygiene and sanitation. This also exposes them to risks of contracting diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhea, and stomachaches.

"The current hygiene and sanitation levels are very low because most families live far from the river. Personally, I have to walk for more than four kilometers to the water source. My donkey can only ferry four 20-liter jerry cans of water in one trip. This amount of water is not enough to sustain all my domestic needs. I have five children whom I need to wash clothes for, cook for them, maintain compound hygiene, spare some water for the livestock and also water my farm," said Judy Kalekye.

"I have to use the water sparingly because the distance covered is too long. At times I have to go fetch the water in two rounds."

Sand Dam

Ukava wa Kithoni SHG is made up of farmers who want to tackle water and food scarcity in their arid region, so we have partnered with them to achieve these goals. We plan to install their first sand dam and hand-dug well system to bring water closer to .

This type of intervention helps people to improve their lives. Unpredictable rainfall patterns have made it impossible to guarantee water for communities all year round, as most rivers in Southeastern Kenya are seasonal. Sand dams harvest rainwater where it falls, making it available to the community until their next rain season.

Building this sand dam at a spot on Kwa Makiti River will bring water closer to hundreds of people. After the community picked the spot, our technical team went in and proved the viability by finding a good foundation of bedrock. Now, our engineers are busy drawing up the blueprints. We estimate the dam will be 71.1 meters long and 4.5 meters high.

We are unified with this community to address the water shortage. As more sand dams are built, the environment will continue to transform. As the sand dams mature and build up more sand, the water tables will rise. Along with these sand dams, hand-dug wells (check out the hand-dug well being installed next to this dam) will be installed to give locals a good, safe way to access that water.

With these projects, clean water will be brought closer to hundreds of people in Kithoni Village of Makueni, Kenya.

Project Updates

July, 2020: Through Their Eyes: COVID-19 Chronicles with Wathi Muisyo

This post is part of a new series by The Water Project meant to highlight the perspectives and experiences of the people we serve and how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting them. We invite you to read more of their stories here.

The spread of COVID-19 in Kenya has brought new challenges to 70-year-old Wathi Muisyo.

"My family has been affected greatly by Coronavirus. Kenyan citizens were advised to stay at home due to the virus," she told us recently.

Wathi Muisyo, 70, at home

"All the market days were closed down; as a result, we are unable to sell our farm products. Financial income at this time is difficult, thus making the purchase of supplementary foodstuffs from the shops impossible. Fortunately, this year we have had bountiful harvests, so we have sufficient food to eat at home, thanks to the rains received. I am praying for this virus to end."

Wathi is a member of the Ukava wa Kithoni Self-Help Group that constructed a sand dam and well for their Kithoni community last year.

She used to worry about how to fetch water each day. Before the project, the nearest water source was the Kwa Makiti River located more than a mile from the village. Its water table is shallow and dries up as soon as the rains stop. She and other community members then had to walk to River Kikuo, which is nearly 3 miles from their village - a journey that took about an hour to walk each way.

Things are different now.

"Getting water from the water source has been easy for my family and me because we have a sand dam and shallow well project, which is a stone's throw away from my home. In just a few strokes, the jerrycans are full of water. The water is readily available for us, and we can fetch it at any time of the day," she told us.

Wathi and her family are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her 5 grandchildren live with her right now because the schools are closed. Their parents (her children) work in Nairobi and are not allowed to leave the city due to travel restrictions.

"I am very worried about them as the situation there is very hard," Wathi said, referring to her children.

"They cannot go to work, and we are also unable to send food to them. The remittances that they would send to us are no longer possible because they are not working."

Wathi and her grandchildren

An unprecedented effort in Kenya has helped reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the country. But the restrictions on businesses and the national daily curfew are creating a series of new challenges for people in the country.

"Before this virus, we would work by selling farm products to buy any household necessities or packed foodstuffs such as rice, sugar, and salt. Now, we have to survive on the little that we have because we have no financial income to replenish them once they run out," she said.

"We have harvested a lot of food such as maize, cowpeas, pigeon peas, and beans from our farms because the previous rainy season was adequate, and we thank God for that. We have enough food on our farms to feed our families."

At a time of uncertainty, we continue to support communities so that they can at least count on one thing - access to a safe, reliable water source.

"Having a sand dam project at this time has been very beneficial, and we express our gratitude to The Water Project for their support. Getting water is easy and is not time-consuming at all," Wathi said.

Wathi washes her hands at home.

May, 2020: COVID-19 Prevention Training Update at Kithoni Community

Our teams are working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Join us in our fight against the virus while maintaining access to clean, reliable water.

Wathi Muisyo, 70

We are carrying out awareness and prevention trainings on the virus in every community we serve. Very often, our teams are the first (and only) to bring news and information of the virus to rural communities like Kithoni, Kenya.

We trained community members on the symptoms, transmission routes, and prevention of COVID-19.

Due to public gathering concerns, we worked with trusted community leaders to gather a select group of community members who would then relay the information learned to the rest of their family and friends.

We covered essential hygiene lessons:

- Demonstrations on how to build a simple handwashing station

- Proper handwashing technique

- The importance of using soap and clean water for handwashing

- Cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces including at the water point.

We covered COVID-19-specific guidance in line with national and international standards:

- Information on the symptoms and transmission routes of COVID-19

- What social distancing is and how to practice it

- How to cough into an elbow

- Alternative ways to greet people without handshakes, fist bumps, etc.

- How to make and properly wear a facemask.

During training, we installed a new handwashing station with soap near the community’s water point. We met Wathi Muisyo during our training and she shared how her life has changed due to COVID-19.

Wathi and her two grandchildren at home

“Having a sand dam project at this time has been very beneficial, and we express our gratitude to The Water Project for their support. Getting water is easy and is not time-consuming at all,” Wathi said.

Read Wathi's story here.

Due to the rampant spread of misinformation about COVID-19, we also dedicated time to a question and answer session to help debunk rumors about the disease and provide extra information where needed.

Water access, sanitation, and hygiene are at the crux of disease prevention. You can directly support our work on the frontlines of COVID-19 prevention in all of the communities we serve while maintaining their access to safe, clean, and reliable water.

June, 2019: Kithoni Community Sand Dam Complete

Kithoni Community, Kenya now has a new source of water thanks to your donation. A new dam was constructed on the riverbed, which will build up sand to raise the water table and naturally filter water. Recent rains have helped the dam begin to build up sand and store water. With this water, the surrounding landscape will become lush and fertile.

It could take up to three years of rain (because sometimes it only rains once a year!) for this sand dam to reach maximum capacity. Sand dam construction was undertaken simultaneously with the construction of a hand-dug well that will give community members a safe method of drawing water. As the sand dam matures and stores more sand, a supply of water will be available for drinking from the adjacent hand-dug well. To see that hand-dug well, click here.

Construction for this dam was a success!

"The water point is very beneficial to us," said Patrick Mutie.

"Attaining water in this region has been very hectic and we have been walking for very long distances to fetch water. We are sure once we experience the rains, the sand dam will harvest volumes of water. The project is near most our homes and the energy expended in the pursuit of water will be conserved greatly."

We worked with the Ukava Wa Kithoni Self-Help Group for this project. The members and their families contributed materials and physical labor to complete the projects. In addition, they were trained on various skills such as bookkeeping, financial management, project management, and group dynamics/governance.

When an issue arises in relation to the water project, the group members are equipped with the necessary skills to rectify the problem and ensure it works appropriately. However, if the issue is beyond their capabilities, they can contact their field officer to assist them.

Sand Dam Construction Process

The community members collected all of the local materials like rocks and sand that were required for successful completion of the dam. They also provided unskilled labor to support our artisans. The collection of raw construction materials takes longer than the actual construction. For a super large sand dam, materials collection could take up to four months.

While we delivered more expensive materials like cement, lumber, and work tools, community members gathered sand, stones, and water.

Siting and technical designs were drawn and presented to the Water Resources Management Authority and a survey sent to the National Environment Management Authority for approval before construction started. Once approved, we established a firm bedrock at the base of the sand dam wall. In the absence of good bedrock, excavation is done up to a depth at which the technical team is satisfied that the ground is firm enough to stop seepage.

Then mortar (a mixture of sand, cement, and water) is mixed and heaped into the foundation. Rocks are heaped into the mortar once there is enough to hold. Barbed wire and twisted bar are used to reinforce the mixture. Once the foundation is complete, a skeleton of timber is built to hold the sludge and rocks up above ground level. The process is then repeated until a sufficient height, width and length are built up. The vertical timber beams are dismantled and the dam is left to cure.

After 34 days of construction, the final dam is 71.1 meters long, 4.5 meters high and took 553 bags of cement to build.

New Knowledge

The community hygiene and sanitation training was planned by our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Officer Veronica Matolo in collaboration with field officer Muendo Ndambuki. The self-help group chairperson was notified to mobilize the group members for attendance and participation.

The training was well attended on all three days with the most number of people attending the last day, including a village elder. We took that as a positive sign that word already spread around the community about the project and the importance of the lessons from the training. The training is a participatory learning approach that seeks to empower communities to improve hygiene behaviors, reduce diarrheal diseases, and encourage effective community management of water and sanitation sources.

The training was held at the construction site under a tree shade. On the training day, it was very sunny and windy. The tree did not provide enough shade because at some point it got too sunny and we had to relocate. The venue was not so conducive for training, being an open place, and the wind made the place dusty.

The attendees displayed an extreme interest in the topics of discussion based on the questions they asked and their constant participation. The topics of discussion were relatable to their day-to-day activities and this increased their levels of participation.

Our teams decided to train on topics including:

  • Health problems in the community
  • Investigating community practices
  • Good and bad hygiene behaviors
  • How diseases spread and preventing the spread of diseases
  • Choosing sanitation improvements
  • Choosing improved hygiene behaviors
  • Planning for behavioral change
  • Handwashing
  • Soapmaking

We broadly discussed the disease transmission routes, good and bad hygiene behaviors, and blocking the spread of diseases. It's aimed at helping the community identify their health problems, causes, control, and management. The group divided into two and each sub-group was given the task of identifying the common diseases in the region and the causes and effects they have in the community at large.

The trainer then helped them to identify the best methods to control and manage the spread/risks of contracting the diseases. One of the methods identified was handwashing, and this was established through the construction of a tippy tap.

"We expect a lot of change in our homesteads as a result of this training. For instance, it will help us improve the hygiene of our compounds, food, kitchen, our latrines, practice water treatment and hand washing which will eventually help in the prevention of diseases," Mr. Mutie said.

"We will be ambassadors since if we implement what has been trained, the entire community will learn from us and we will improve the entire community's hygiene standards."

Another activity that garnered a lot of interest was soapmaking. Members were eager to learn the procedure because it was a new idea. The soap making activity was special since the members discovered that the skill would be beneficial for improving hygiene standards and help some people increase income if people made soap and sold it in local markets.

"The soap will be a very reliable source of income for the group members," Mr. Mutie said.

According to the facilitator, Veronica Matolo, the group will need minimal follow-up to check their adoption rate as they expressed willingness and motivation to learn more. They are likely to implement training content within a short period of time.

Thank You for making all of this possible.

April, 2019: Kithoni Community Sand Dam Project Underway

People living in Kithoni currently have to walk a very long way to find water, and that water isn’t even clean. Thanks to your generosity, we are working to build a sand dam that will bring water closer to home for hundreds of people.

Get to know this community by reading the introduction and pictures we’ve posted, and read more about this water, sanitation, and hygiene project and how it works. We look forward to reaching out again when we have more news!

Project Photos

Project Type

Sand dams are huge, impressive structures built into the riverbeds of seasonal rivers (rivers that disappear every year during dry seasons). Instead of holding back a reservoir of water like a traditional dam would, sand dams accumulate a reservoir of silt and sand. Once the rain comes, the sand will capture 1-3% of the river’s flow, allowing most of the water to pass over. Then, we construct shallow wells on the riverbank to provide water even when the river has dried up, thanks to new groundwater reserves. Learn more here!

Giving Update: Kithoni Community

February, 2021

A year ago, your generous donation helped Kithoni Community in Kenya access clean water – creating a life-changing moment for Jane Musui. Thank you!

Keeping The Water Promise

There's an incredible community of monthly donors who have come alongside you in supporting clean water in Kithoni Community 1A.

This giving community supports ongoing sustainability programs that help Kithoni Community 1A maintain access to safe, reliable water. Together, they keep The Water Promise.

We’re confident you'll love joining this world-changing group committed to sustainability!

"Before the project was implemented in this area, there were many challenges of accessing clean water. The river bed was arid and rocky. Its water table was too low to access water. We used to queue for long hours because only one scoop hole would have water, and it was relied on by many community members. It was very exhausting and time-consuming," said Jane Musui.

"We can fetch water easily. We feel like life has improved. There's no challenge of water like before. Our livelihoods are better now. Livestock can now drink water to their fill within short miles from our homesteads. Easy access to water has helped me in farming and establishing a vegetable garden. Availability of water near our homesteads has helped in improving our living standards, cleanliness, hygiene, and sanitation are maintained easily."

Jane Musui

"Community members were able to use the water to mold bricks. In the previous year, during the dry season, this water source was highly depended on by a large population to fetch water for drinking, farming, and household duties. I have planted vegetables and yams at our family land, something very hard to achieve without water availability. We feel like life is very easy now. We never thought life could be this comfortable."

Navigating through intense dry spells, performing preventative maintenance, conducting quality repairs when needed and continuing to assist community leaders to manage water points are all normal parts of keeping projects sustainable. The Water Promise community supports ongoing sustainability programs that help Kithoni Community 1A maintain access to safe, reliable water.

We’d love for you to join this world-changing group committed to sustainability.

The most impactful way to continue your support of Kithoni Community 1A – and hundreds of other places just like this – is by joining our community of monthly givers.

Your monthly giving will help provide clean water, every month... keeping The Water Promise.


Project Sponsor - Lifeplus Foundation - The Workshop Team