The river of God is full of water, you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. – Psalm 65:9
In Avad, in eastern Kenya, it took 23 days and several hundred people to build a sand dam a hundred meters long. Or put another way, it took over two years for the community to get to the place to be able to sustain this effort. Either way, the end result is the same – the sand dam provides water in the dry season for 6,000 people in three villages. It is a 23-day (or two year) miracle!
Without the sand dam, there would be no water, no life, the villagers told us. With the sand dam, in the dry season, women no longer have to walk miles in search of water. And the drinking water the villagers now have is cleaner and causes less disease. There is enough water for crops and cattle.
The Utooni Development Organization in the Ukambani region of eastern Kenya has built over 1,500 sand dams here. The dams are part of an overall effort to transform the environment of disadvantaged communities and help farmers to improve their water supply, food production, health and incomes.
The villagers we met were proud of what they had accomplished. “When we work together, we can do a lot,” they told us. We sang and prayed together first, and then we inspected the dam itself. The construction is simple. A cement retainer wall has been built across the river and sand has filled in behind the wall, trapping water for later use.
In the rainy season, there is enough water going over the dam for everyone. In the dry season, the community is able to access the water stored in the sand. And the water table has risen substantially, even for communities downstream.
Leaders of the Utooni Development Organization are working with self-help groups in 80 communities in the region and they expect to build many more sand dams. Teaching communities about water management, food production and healthcare, giving people this kind of knowledge, is a gift they believe will last forever.
Because of the work of the Utooni Development Organization, the river is indeed full of water and overflowing. These villagers give God the glory.
Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S. He just returned from a two-week trip to eastern Congo, Burundi and Kenya.