Project Status

Project Type:  Sand Dam

Regional Program: Southeastern Kenya WaSH Program

Impact: 500 Served

Project Phase:  In Service - Mar 2020

Functionality Status:  Functional

Last Checkup: 03/14/2024

Project Features

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The community members of Wamwathi and Syunzale villages are faced with very long days due to their pursuit of clean drinking water which often hinders them from conducting any other activities. Depending on which has water, they go to either the Syiluluku rock catchment located two kilometers away or Wamwathi Spring found four kilometers away. More often than not, fetching water falls on the women.

Some people leave as early as 3 am to get water, said Andrew Munyoki to our field staff. This is done to avoid waiting in the long lines that build up during the day since there are only a couple sources for a community of 1,020. But at best, a single source can serve only 500 people.

Once the water chore is completed, they walk back home to conduct household duties and prepare their children for school. However, at times the students attend school without bathing or having a meal.

"If one has no donkey, life gets worse, because one has to go to the water source for very many rounds," explained Mr. Munyoki.

As a result, a whole day can be spent solely on fetching water.

Wamwathi Community is found in Kitui County of southeast Kenya. It is a semi-arid region that experiences periods of drought - a situation that is only getting worse due to climate change. The households are sparsely populated with the homesteads existing two or more kilometers apart from each other. The area is rural and underdeveloped. Most structures are built of mud and iron sheet roofing. A few community members reside in stone houses. Its vegetation is thronged by indigenous bushes and a few families farm maize and sorghum. The area has very few markets and the school which most children attend is located about two kilometers from the village.

The average family is eight people and the primary business conducted in the area is that of beekeeping. They have set up many beehives on trees and they harvest honey on a daily basis. For the better-off families, the honey is supplied to the market areas by means of motorbikes. Others make a living participating in informal labor, such as carrying water for families or working as motorbike drivers.

The pursuit of water is economically draining for this community. Time spent fetching water keeps them from carrying out any income-generating activities. Hygiene and sanitation maintenance is impossible due to water scarcity. This also causes students to miss school at times. During the dry seasons, unscrupulous water vendors overprice water which becomes very costly for them.

"Life is very difficult. We are forced to drink unclean water as we have no alternatives which expose one to risks of contracting waterborne diseases such as dysentery and typhoid," said Mr. Munyoki.

A sand dam is a long term solution for the water problem that the community is currently facing. The members will walk for shorter distances in a bid to access clean drinking water and access it more easily through the adjacent hand-dug well installed at the same time. This project gives the community ownership of the water supply which in return boosts their chances of financial security.

Our main entry point into Wamwathi Community is the Syiluluku Rock Catchment Self-Help Group, which is comprised of 40 farming households that are working together to address water and food scarcity in their region. These members will be our hands and feet in both constructing water projects and spreading the message of good hygiene and sanitation to everyone.

Once the project is completed, the community members are granted the responsibility of handling and managing the water project. They can set the rules and regulations for rationing the water supply, user restrictions, and the rates at which they will sell the water.

Sand Dam

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 20.4 meters long and 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 Wamwathi Community.


The lack of access to water impacts community hygiene and sanitation levels. Most households have poor compound hygiene and their general hygiene and sanitation standards are low.

As a result of water scarcity, we rarely wash our latrines. At times we lack water for personal hygiene," said Martha Muisho.

"Bathing is conducted intermittently and washing clothes is also problematic because it requires so much water. The water is often used sparingly in a bid to conduct all household duties."

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.

We will hold hygiene and sanitation training sessions with Syiluluku Rock Catchment Self-Help Group, 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.

Project Updates

July, 2020: Through Their Eyes: COVID-19 Chronicles with Kanyaa Kavindu

This story is a part of a series by The Water Project meant to highlight the perspectives and experiences of the people we serve and how they are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. See other stories in the series here.

Kanyaa Kavindu (center) standing with her husband, son, and grandchildren.

The Kenyan government implemented a series of restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country. A curfew is in place from 9:00 pm to 4:00 am each day, social gatherings are limited, and people are not allowed to move in and out of counties with higher caseloads - including the capital city of Nairobi. As a result, everyday life is significantly disrupted.

For Kanyaa Kavindu, a 57-year-old mother of 7, the changes significantly impact her life. Kanyaa and her husband live in Wamwathi, a community in southeast Kenya. Their elder children live and work in Nairobi. They send home money to their parents but no longer can send as much because their incomes fell as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. This money is crucial for them because one of their younger children suffers from a health problem that requires extra attention and financial resources.

Kanyaa Kavindu

"It has been difficult taking care of him in such a time with limited financial ability," Kanyaa told our team during a recent visit.

We spoke with Kanyaa as a part of our outreach to communities where we work to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on people's lives. Kanyaa and her husband are members of the Syiluluku Self-Help Group. The members work together to improve their community - notably through projects such as constructing a sand dam and hand-dug well to enable access to safe water every day.

"Our community entirely depends on the shallow well we constructed last year. We have installed a handwashing station at the well to prevent the spread of the virus," Kanyaa said.

Wamwathi community members stand on the sand dam they helped construct last year

Wamwathi Community is in Kitui County of southeast Kenya. It is a semi-arid region that experiences periods of drought – a situation that is only getting worse due to climate change. The households are spread out. Some homes are as far as 2 kilometers apart. Before the construction of the project, community members, including Kanyaa, woke up at 3:00 am to get water from the nearest reliable water point. Now, people can make a short walk to the dam and shallow well they completed instead.

The project is helping the Kavindu family deal with the unique challenges presented by COVID-19. While the money remitted from Nairobi has decreased, the family now has a garden where they grow vegetables - something they did not have before.

"Using water from the well, we have developed a small garden near the water point where we have grown pawpaws, maize, sugarcane, and sweet potatoes. All this supplements the small produce from our farm toward feeding my children and grandchildren here at home," Kanyaa explained.

The sugarcane holds the potential to provide income for the family, too. It takes more than 18 months to mature but it is very lucrative if grown successfully.

During our visit to Wamwathi, our teams conducted a COVID-19 sensitization training. We went over national and international standards for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and refreshed previous training on topics such as handwashing and constructing tippy tap handwashing stations.

COVID-19 sensitization training in Wamwathi

Fortunately, access to water is not a concern for this community anymore.

"The sand dam and shallow projects have been of great importance to us in this time of coronavirus outbreak. The well has been supplying us with clean water since the day it was completed last year," Kanyaa said.

"This has greatly enabled us to practice regular hand washing with clean water since the water is available in plenty."

Handwashing using a tippy tap set up during training

May, 2020: COVID-19 Prevention Training Update at Wamwathi 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.

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 Wamwathi, 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.

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.

March, 2020: Wamwathi Community Sand Dam Complete!

Wamwathi, Kenya now has access to a new source of water thanks to your donation. A new sand dam was constructed on a sandy riverbed, which will build up sand to raise the water table and naturally filter water.

"We are very happy as community members in this locality," said Ndungwa Mutisya, a member of the community. "The long distances traveled in search of water will be cut down by the presence of this facility. We are thankful to the donors."

We worked with the Syiluluku Rock Catchment Self-Help Group for this project. The members and their families contributed materials and physical labor to complete the project. In addition, they were trained on various skills such as bookkeeping, financial management, project management, group dynamics, and governance. We also conducted a hygiene and sanitation training to teach skills like soapmaking and to help improve behaviors such as handwashing.

SHG members

When an issue arises concerning 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 our team of field officers to assist them.

Sand Dam

The community members collected all of the local materials like rocks and sand that were required for the successful completion of the dam. They also provided labor to support our artisans. The collection of raw construction materials takes longer than the actual construction. For a large sand dam, materials collection could take up to 4 months.

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 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 rebar are used to reinforce the mixture.

Once the foundation is complete, a skeleton of timber is built to hold up the sludge and rocks 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.

This dam measures 20.4 meters long and 5 meters high and took 505 bags of cement to build.

Sand dam construction was simultaneous to the construction of a hand-dug well, which gives locals a safer method of drawing water. As the sand dam matures and stores more water, more of it will be accessible as drinking water from the well. To see that hand-dug well, click here.

As soon as it rains, the dam will begin to build up sand and store water. With this water, the surrounding landscape will become lush and fertile. However, it could take up to 3 years of rain for this sand dam to reach maximum capacity.

New Knowledge

The training was planned by the sanitation and hygiene officer Veronica Matolo in collaboration with the Waita area field officer Austin Mumo. Austin notified the group on the need to have a hygiene training after completion of the project. A date was agreed upon and communicated to Veronica for her preparations. All community members were invited for the training as well as village elders and church leaders.
Veronica conferred with the field staff about their previous visits to households and interviews with community members to determine which topics the community still could improve upon. They decided to train on topics including health problems in the community; good and bad hygiene behaviors; how diseases spread and their prevention; choosing sanitation improvements; choosing improved hygiene behaviors; planning for behavioral change; handwashing; and soapmaking.

The training was held at the Apostolic Church grounds under an indigenous tree within the compound. The weather was constantly fluctuating from windy to sunny and sometimes cold. Despite the weather hindrances, the community was flexible enough to adapt to the different situations which created a conducive learning environment.

Nearly all of the group members attended the training. In addition, the church pastor and the village head took part. All attending community members participated actively in the training sessions, though older attendees expressed more interest to learn more concepts compared to younger attendees, observed our team. This was motivated by their strong community ties. They encouraged the younger generations to embrace these development-oriented activities.

Members found the community mapping activity special because they said that it enabled them to understand their area better than they previously knew it. They also said they learned that it was important to have latrines and to keep their homesteads clean.

"We are happy to have been taken through a very educative session which has equipped us with a lot of knowledge. We know the importance of maintaining good hygiene practices for good health and we have learned the disease transmission routes and how to prevent them through handwashing and boiling water," said Ndungwa Mutisya after the training.

Thank you for making all of this possible!

January, 2020: Wamwathi Community sand dam underway!

A severe clean water shortage at Wamwathi Community drains time, energy, and health from people here. Thanks to your generosity, we’re working to install a clean water point and much more.

Get to know this community through the introduction and pictures we’ve posted, and read about this water, sanitation and hygiene project. We look forward to reaching out with more good 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: Wamwathi Community

February, 2021

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

Keeping The Water Promise

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

This giving community supports ongoing sustainability programs that help Wamwathi 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!

"The whole of our village community relied on a local government rock catchment which is found more than 3km from my home. The catchment area would dry up sometimes during the year. Then we start traveling for more than 5km in search of water in river scoop holes. Available water sources never provided clean water safe for human consumption," said Kavindu Mutua.

"Getting water has now been made easier, it is a simple task that takes less than 15 minutes from my home, the water is well clean and sweet upon drinking. I only walk to the water point and draw my water. Then I travel back home. Having water from within enables me to start a small kitchen garden where I am growing pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and kales. They are helping me diversify the eating habits of my family."

Kavindu Mutua

"The water point has been providing us with clean water all year round since its completion. It is a joy having safe water from within. I have also planted trees in my compound using water from this source. The trees are doing well, and I am looking forward to having a beautiful compound full of trees, including fruit trees. Water from this water point has helped ensure regular handwashing in our homes, especially during this time of Coronavirus."

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 Wamwathi 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 Wamwathi 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.


Ron and Karen Matz Philanthropic Fund
National Honor Society- Gracks group
22 individual donor(s)