Project Status

Project Type:  Sand Dam

Regional Program: Southeastern Kenya WaSH Program

Impact: 5,000 Served

Project Phase:  In Service - Dec 2021

Functionality Status:  Functional

Last Checkup: 02/23/2024

Project Features

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The Lema community is found in a relatively dry part of Southeast Kenya. Most houses here are made of bricks and iron sheet roofing. The area is sparsely populated, with most community members owning large pieces of land. Indigenous thickets and bushes have been cleared to create paths. The roads used in these areas are not paved, so they are impassable during the wet seasons.

This region's water crisis is very intense, especially during the dry seasons. A common site for this community of more than 5,000 people is people walking to and from water sources with donkeys ferrying water. Most people make three two-hour trips a day to get the water they need. Those fortunate enough to own donkeys to carry the water can make fewer trips, but most households cannot afford that luxury.

These walks for water, with or without donkeys, waste community members' precious time. People have to wake up very early to fetch water at the scoop holes, which are often over-crowded.

"The water scarcity issue affects us a lot. We have to walk for long distances in search of water, and this also results in body issues such as exhaustion and fatigue," explained Damaris Katumani Mwanzo, a 51-year-old farmer who lives in the community.

Damaris relies on water drawn from scoop holes in the Kyangulumi River, but it is a seasonal source. When the river dries up, Damaris and her neighbors have to walk along the riverbed, searching for spots to dig scoop holes to reach the water under the sand. When the river dries completely, they have to walk more than five miles to the Athi River to fetch water.

The scoop holes are open and prone to contamination from toxins such as animal waste, farm chemicals, and improper household waste materials. All of these pollute the water and expose the community members to the risks of contracting water diseases.

"The water we fetch is not clean. I have been sick with typhoid and amoeba as a result of drinking water from this source. It is very costly to treat these diseases," Damaris said.

"A lot of time is also wasted in search of water. This time could be channeled to better, income-generating, and productive activities."

This community is well known for its development projects and unity in accomplishing those projects. Together, the area's self-help group constructed the church where they all go to worship. They also established a table banking system where they borrow soft loans and return at low-interest rates.

Community members support each other in social activities such as market days, church services, weddings, dowry payments, fundraising functions, among other events that bring people together.

What We Can Do:

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

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 and 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 hindered reaching their fullest potential.

We will hold hygiene and sanitation training sessions with the Katothya Self-Help Group and other community members to teach about important hygiene practices and daily habits to establish at the personal, household, and community level. This training will ensure that participants know 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 handling, storing, and treating 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.

The community and we 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 three to five years on multiple water projects. We will conduct follow-up visits and refresher training 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

December, 2021: Lema Community A Sand Dam Complete!

Lema, Kenya now has access to a new source of water thanks to your donation. We constructed a new sand dam on the riverbed, which will build up sand to raise the water table and naturally filter water. We also constructed a new hand-dug well with a hand pump adjacent to the sand dam, providing the community with a safer method to draw drinking water supplied by the dam.

"Available and reliable water from this project will help my family and me in accessing clean drinking water," said Catherine Sammy. "Initially, I would walk for very long distances in search of water, there were very long queues at the water point and a lot of our time was wasted."

"Now, the water point is adjacent to my home, ensuring I can access water within a short period of time," Catherine continued. "I anticipate performing my household chores on time, cleaning the house, and ensuring the meals are prepared well and early enough. This will enable me to have enough time to engage in income-generating activities."

Sand Dam Construction Process

The community members collected all of the local materials like rocks and sand required to complete the dam. The collection of raw construction materials takes longer than the actual construction, lasting up to four months for a large sand dam. The group also dedicated their time and energy to support our artisans with physical labor throughout the project.

First, our team drew siting and technical designs and presented them to the Water Resources Management Authority. We also sent a survey to the National Environment Management Authority for approval before we began construction. Once approved, we established firm bedrock at the base of the sand dam wall. In the absence of good bedrock, we excavate to a depth at which the ground is firm enough to stop seepage.

Next, we mixed and heaped mortar (a mixture of sand, cement, and water) into the foundation, followed by rocks once there was enough mortar to hold them. We then used barbed wire and rebar to reinforce the mixture.

Once the foundation was complete, we built a timber skeleton to hold up the sludge and rocks above ground level. We then repeated the process until reaching a sufficient height, width, and length.

Finally, we dismantled the vertical timber beams and left the dam to cure. This dam measures 64 meters long and 6 meters high and took 1,600 bags of cement to build.

The dam has already begun to build up sand and store water. With this water, the surrounding landscape will become lush and fertile and the well will provide drinking water to the community. 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!

We worked with the Katothya Self-Help Group for this project. The members and their families contributed materials and a tremendous amount of physical labor.

New Knowledge

We worked with the Katothya Self-Help Group for this project. The members and their families contributed materials and physical labor to complete the project. We trained the group on various skills, including bookkeeping, financial management, project management, group dynamics, and governance. We also conducted hygiene and sanitation training to teach skills like soap making and improve behaviors such as handwashing.

The participants were recruited through the area field officer, Mr. Benson Kituku, who called the Chairman before the three-day Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) Training and informed him on the training dates.

The Chairman then informed the community members about the planned training session, which turned up in large numbers throughout the training days.

The training took place at their sand dam site since the group was still constructing their first sand dam. The site was spacious as it accommodated all the community members, and we were able to observe the COVID-19 protocols such as physical distancing.

Our 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. We decided to train on health problems in the community, good and bad hygiene behaviors, how diseases spread and their prevention, sanitation improvements, improved hygiene behaviors, plan for behavioral change, handwashing, and soap making.

"Since the start of the three-day training, we have learned a lot about hygiene and sanitation. The session has come in at the right moment. We have now covered different aspects and domains of proper hygiene and sanitation practices, especially at this prime time when we are still fighting against the pandemic. With the knowledge acquired, we will be able to subdue the entire community with the proper practices to administer. I am now able to make soap for myself as well as other detergents which are key in sustaining high hygiene standards at my household," said Benson Mutuku Kasimu.

"The training has helped me to know how to protect myself against COVID-19 by washing my hands, sanitizing, preparing soap, and observing social distance. In addition, through the availability of water, we will set up more handwashing stations which will improve the handwashing practices, especially now with the increasing rates of COVID-19 infections."

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.

Thank you for making all of this possible!

November, 2021: Lema Community Project Underway!

A severe clean water shortage in Lema 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: Sharing What He Sows

December, 2022

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

Keeping The Water Promise

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

This giving community supports ongoing sustainability programs that help Lema 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 this project, life was totally unbearable here, as we are located in a region that receives little or no rainfall all through the year," 64-year-old farmer Benson Mutuku. "During dry seasons, the river could dry, then a journey to search for water would set off. Community members would trek for around five kilometers to reach a dam which could hold some water."

Life without water was so tedious for people in Lema. But since they put in weeks of hard work to build a sand dam and shallow well in their community, everything has changed.

"After constructing this sand dam, life has changed a lot," said Benson, who still serves as secretary in his community's Water User Committee. "In the past year, I have been able to practice farming, which is evident on our farm where we have planted wheat, sorghum, and bitter herbs. During the last dry season, the community maneuvered very swiftly having clean water, and didn’t have to trek for long distances in search of water anymore."

With the gift of clean water in his grasp, Benson hasn't wasted any time in working toward a better future for himself and his family.

"In the past year, I have planted numerous trees," he said. "I have prepared a land where I will practice kitchen garden farming just to have vegetables near me. As a group, we have emphasized proper hygiene and sanitation [in] our homes, as water is available to gear up the practice. We have also grown numerous crops for the group, hoping to get high yields for seed banking for the group to share and plant in the coming season."

Benson shows off his farm.

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 Lema 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 Lema 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.


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