Project Status

Project Type:  Sand Dam

Regional Program: Southeastern Kenya WaSH Program

Impact: 470 Served

Project Phase:  In Service - May 2021

Functionality Status:  Functional

Last Checkup: 03/14/2024

Project Features

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On an average day for the 470 community members in Syonzale, the women wake up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for the family as the children prepare to go to school. Syonzale is found in a quiet, rural location which has a relatively flat terrain. The households are sparsely populated with large distances between homes. Most people here make a living working as farmers who sell their produce and livestock at the local market.

Before making breakfast, most women will go to fetch water at the best possible source, which usually is the nearest riverbed, depending on the time of the year. Unpredictable rainfall patterns cannot guarantee water for communities year-round as most rivers in the Kitui County are seasonal.

To address this problem here, we are working with the Syiluluku Self-Help Group, which is comprised of households that are working together to address water and food scarcity in their region. These members are our hands and feet in both constructing water projects and spreading the message of good hygiene and sanitation to everyone in this area.

The self-help group members recently completed their first project with us, but that dam and well alone are not enough to support everyone here. People will have access to water through the first project, but there are still hundreds of people that have to travel long distances to get water.

"The first project is helping provide water to us and it is important for the whole village to have a practical example of a functional project, but we are not where we want to be yet because water shortages are still prevalent in our village and area at large. We remain committed to working on more projects aimed at bringing water close to every household in our locality which will lead to improved lives," said Ngina David.

Kavindu Mutua, a farmer in the community shared similar sentiments about a commitment to bringing water to more people.

"After the implementation of our first water project, it is working well and providing us with clean water for use at the household level," he said.

"We now understand the importance of such a project. We are working hard to jointly implement more projects within the village so that everyone can have easy access to water and improve our lives."

What We Can Do:

Sand Dam

After the community picked the ideal 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 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 this sand dam, a hand-dug well will be installed to give community members an easy, safe way to access that water.

Building this sand dam along with the well in this community will help bring clean water closer to hundreds of people living here.


These community members currently do their best to practice good hygiene and sanitation, but their severe lack of water has been a big hindrance to reaching their fullest potential.

We will hold hygiene and sanitation training sessions with the Syiluluku Self-Help Group and other community members to teach about important hygiene practices and daily habits to establish at the personal, household, and community levels. This training will help to ensure that participants have the knowledge they need to make the most out of their new water point as soon as the water is flowing.

One of the most important topics we plan to cover is the handling, storage, and treatment of water. Having a clean water source will be extremely helpful, but it is useless if water gets contaminated by the time it is consumed. We will also emphasize the importance of handwashing.

We and the community strongly believe that all of these components will work together to improve living standards here, which will help to unlock the potential for these community members to live better, healthier lives.

We typically work with self-help groups for 3 to 5 years on multiple water projects. We will conduct follow-up visits and refresher trainings during this period and remain in contact with the group after all of the projects are completed to support their efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene.

Project Updates

May, 2021: Syonzale Community Sand Dam Complete!

Syonzale, 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.

"Water has been brought close to home. I can help mum and will now be able to fetch water many trips after school, which will enable us to improve cleanliness at home through regular washing of clothes and to clean all houses. The pump looks good, and the water comes out quickly," said young Kilonzi M.

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. We trained the group in various skills such as bookkeeping, financial management, project management, group dynamics, and governance. We also conducted hygiene and sanitation training to teach skills like soapmaking and improve behaviors such as handwashing.

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 field officers to assist them.

"This water project has brought water close to my family and me. Our grandchildren will now help us get water for household use because it is close to home. That was never possible in the past because of the long distances we traveled to get water," said farmer Ndainge Mengi.

Sand Dam

The community members collected all of the local materials like rocks and sand required to complete 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 four months.

Cement bags

Siting and technical designs were drawn and presented to the Water Resources Management Authority, and a survey was 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 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 poured 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 36 meters long and 3 meters high and took 492 bags of cement to build.

Sand dam construction was simultaneous to constructing a hand-dug well, which gives locals a safer method of drawing water. As the sand dam matures and stores more water, more 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 three years of rain for this sand dam to reach maximum capacity because sometimes it only rains once a year!

New Knowledge

The trainer conferred with the field staff about their previous visits to households and interviews with community members to determine which topics the community could improve upon.

They decided to train on 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 site of their current sand dam because they were still constructing this new dam at the time. People chose to come early to work on the dam before the training and also stayed to work after the session was over.

The tippy tap is an activity that is meant to demonstrate the proper handwashing procedure and the critical moments for handwashing. It is also about constructing a cheap and straightforward handwashing facility. During this section, a member who was close to a fence saw a snake sneaking near the training. Immediately she started throwing stones to scare it away. Some people tried to run after and catch the snake, but it got away. This made for a lively and memorable session!

Tippy tap demonstration.

"The training has been excellent. The knowledge taught will be of great benefit to my family and me. I have learned the best practices for how I can help stay healthy through regular handwashing, improved utensil cleanliness, and general hygiene at the household level," shared Myiva Kitonga after the training.

Thank you for making all of this possible!

March, 2021: Syonzale Community sand dam underway!

A severe clean water shortage at Syonzale Community drains people's time, energy, and health. 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!

A Year Later: Adequate Water for People, Plants, and Animals!

June, 2022

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

Keeping The Water Promise

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

This giving community supports ongoing sustainability programs that help Syonzale 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 we installed the sand dam and shallow well in Syonzale Community, obtaining water for everyone's activities was a constant struggle.

"We had to walk for about two kilometers searching for water from the rivers, which was exhausting and time-consuming," said 13-year-old student John M.

"This negatively affected my academic performance since I had less time and energy to focus on my studies. Personal hygiene and sanitation were also negatively impacted due to the rampant water scarcity. Our livestock could also succumb to the long droughts because of the long walks to the scoop holes under the scorching sun."

But now, with a sand dam and well so close to home, Syonzale's people have much less strife to contend with and more time for life's joys.

"This water point is close to my home, thus getting water is no longer a time-consuming and tedious task," John continued.

"I now also have enough clean water to drink and improve my personal hygiene and sanitation. My academic performance has also improved because I have more time to study, unlike before where I could spend a lot of time going to the river after class."

And people are not the only ones benefiting from the water projects: plants and animals also thrive alongside people.

"Our vegetables and livestock also give us better yields to supplement our diet because we now have adequate water for irrigation and animal watering," John explained." My school is also close to this water point and we use its water to clean our classrooms and water tree seedlings."

John using the well with other community members.

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 Syonzale 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 Syonzale 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 - Barbara Belle Ash Dougan Foundation