Project Status

Project Type:  Sand Dam

Regional Program: Southeastern Kenya WaSH Program

Impact: 2,500 Served

Project Phase:  In Service - Oct 2023

Functionality Status:  Functional

Last Checkup: 05/09/2024

Project Features

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Community Profile

The 2,500 people of Ithambangwao walk at least three kilometers (1.86 miles) every day to fetch water that makes them sick.

Our field officer said that some families try to make four trips per day to the unprotected hand-dug well that they use as their only water source. This translates to 12 kilometers (7.45 miles) walked per day, just to ensure a household has enough water for their essential needs.

“Access to drinking water means that the source is less than 1 kilometer away from its place of use and that it is possible to reliably obtain at least 20 liters per member of a household per day.” (The World Health Organization Joint Monitoring Program)

16-year-old Jackline M. (shown above at the well) spends most of her time outside of school getting water for her family. "I...get little time to play with my friends because I have to help in fetching water after classes, or during weekends and holidays."

This demoralizing, repetitive journey reaps no reward except salty, unsafe water.

"The saline water is not appropriate for drinking or irrigating crops," said our field officer, Alex. "The water is also contaminated because the dug well is unprotected. Residents are thus exposed to water-related infections such as stomach upsets, typhoid, amoeba, and dysentery."

"I often get sick after drinking water from the dug well, like last September when I had to seek medical attention," Jackline said.

"Getting money to pay medical bills for my children whenever they contract water-related infections is hard because of the low farm and animal output," said 67-year-old farmer Christopher Muthengi (pictured above). "I want to plant trees during this season but it will not be possible because of the insufficient water and rampant drought. I cannot cultivate any crops because of the drought, which makes providing for my family difficult."

As Christopher said, this area has been ravaged by several years of continuous drought. Drought dries up water sources, makes farming difficult, and prevents people from performing necessary hygiene and sanitation to stave off disease.

Ithambangwao needs a drought-resistant water source of its own.

"The installation of the proposed sand dam and shallow well project will ensure residents have enough clean water nearby," said Alex. "They will...use the extra time and energy on other activities like tree planting, crop cultivation, rearing cattle, or conducting hygiene and sanitation. The community will be able to change the climate of the region in the long run through tree-planting, thanks to water from the sand dam project. The availability of water will ensure the community reaps better animal produce and farm yields, thus acquiring a source of income and ensuring food security. They will use the income to care for their families through better education and ultimately securing better job opportunities."

What We Can Do:

Our main entry point into the community is the Self-Help Group, which comprises households 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 the many people living here.


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

We will hold hygiene and sanitation training sessions with the Self-Help Group and other community members to teach essential hygiene practices and daily habits to establish at the personal, household, and community level. 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 handling, storage, and water treatment. Having a clean water source will be extremely helpful, but it is useless if water gets contaminated when it is consumed. We will also emphasize the importance of handwashing.

The community and we firmly 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 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

October, 2023: Ithambangwao Community Sand Dam Complete!

Ithambangwao, Kenya now has access to a new water source 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 over time. We also built 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.

"I am very glad because I will not be spending most of my day fetching water, and I will easily get water for drinking, cooking, and irrigating my vegetables. My cattle and goats will also easily get water to drink, and I do not have to herd them all the way to [the] distant earth dam or scoop holes," said 60-year-old farmer Lucy Francis.

"I will also get enough water to wash my clothes and conduct other personal hygiene duties. In the past, I would spend [most] of the day walking to and fro Ndalani earth dam; thus, water was used sparingly, and hygiene and sanitation were often overlooked," continued Lucy.

"I am very happy that I will get enough clean water while also selling it to fellow community members at a reasonable figure. I will also have enough water to irrigate vegetables, which will supplement my family's diet. I will also have more time and energy to keep my house clean, prepare meals for my family members, and take care of my cattle," concluded Lucy.

Sand Dam Construction Process

The members of Kaliluni Mtunze Punda Womens Self-Help Group collected all of the local materials, like rocks and sand, required to complete the dam. The collection of raw 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 the plans were 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 compact 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. We then used barbed wire and rebar to reinforce the mixture.

Once the foundation was complete, we built a timber skeleton to hold the sludge and rocks above ground level. Once our first layer dried, we 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 70 meters long and 3 meters high and took 890 bags of cement to build.

As soon as it rains, the dam will 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 in this region, sometimes it only rains once a year!

"Although the group did not hold a dedication event, they were very happy about the project. They were very proud of it because they would no longer be walking several kilometers to draw water. They thanked the partners who assisted them in building the sand dam and shallow well project," said field officer Alex Koech.

New Knowledge

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

The training was held at Kaliluni Catholic Church because it was centrally located and close to the project. All of the members of the self-help group were in attendance, with the exception of one person who couldn't attend.

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- and detergent-making and improve behaviors such as handwashing.

We also touched on health problems in the community, good and bad hygiene behaviors, the spread and prevention of disease, and sanitation improvements. Finally, we covered natural resource management and the operation and maintenance of the sand dam.

The community was shown how to construct a simple handwashing station called a tippy tap that uses a jerrican so they can construct them to use outside of their latrine at home to maintain proper hygiene and prevent the spread of disease.

Participants learn how to make a tippy tap handwashing station.

"The training will bring a positive impact in our lives since we have had poor hygienic practices in the past. Like for instance, litter has been everywhere in our compounds since we thought that there wasn’t a need for having a rubbish pit. Other sanitation infrastructures like having a utensil rack, [and] squat hole cover have always been ignored until this training came and taught us their importance. This training has really lifted us to a higher level of hygiene. Diseases will reduce at a greater rate. We are grateful," said Lucy, who was quoted earlier.

"[The] poverty level will definitely go low since we now have a skill that can bring us money. Soap and latrine-making skills will really lift our income. We will be making and selling the soap, and that way, [we] have a small income to cater for our basic needs,” concluded Lucy.


This project required a substantial collaboration between our staff, our in-country teams, and the community members. When an issue arises concerning the sand dam, 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 local field officers to assist them.

Also, we will continue to offer them unmatchable support as a part of our monitoring and maintenance program. We walk with each community, problem-solving together when they face challenges with functionality, seasonality, or water quality. Together, all these components help us strive for enduring access to reliable, clean, and safe water for this community.

With your contribution, one more piece has been added to a large puzzle of water projects. In Kenya, Uganda, and Sierra Leone, we’re working toward complete coverage. That means reliable, maintained water sources within a 30-minute round trip for each community, household, school, and health center. With this in mind, search through our upcoming projects to see which community you can help next!

Thank you for making all of this possible!

August, 2023: Ithambangwao Community Sand Dam Project Underway!

The lack of adequate water in Ithambangwao Community costs people time, energy, and health every single day. Clean water scarcity contributes to community instability and diminishes individuals’ personal progress.

But thanks to your recent generosity, things will soon improve here. We are now working to install a reliable water point and improve hygiene standards. We look forward to sharing inspiring news in the near future!

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!


Project Sponsor - Barbara Belle Ash Dougan Foundation