Water from a rock? The impossible becomes a reality!
Syumbe village is perched on the slopes of Syumbe hills in Makueni County, Mbooni Sub County, Kiteta division, Tawa sub location some 1700m A.S.L. Being a hilly area, the terrain is pretty tough owing to the steep slopes and rock outcrops that dot the village. There are no proper roads up the hills save for narrow foot paths that turn to fast flowing streams when it rains and serve to carry runoff to the seasonal rivers at the foot of the hill. While here, one gets a nice aerial view that stretches to the horizon of the farms, rivers, schools and shopping centers below. Further up the hill, there’s a primary school. It must tough for those pupils.
It is on these slopes that you will find Muuo wa Syumbe Self Help Group (SHG). A self-help group is basically a group of people with a common objective who come together to work towards solving a common problem in their village. Muuo wa Syumbe SHG is one such group and comprises 17 members.
Due to the tough terrain, their village was marginalized for so long. Service provision even from government officials was unheard of. Since the groups’ formation in 2006, the groups’ main activity was a merry go round that was aimed at liberating the members economically. Although they had ambitious dreams of helping themselves, they had no means to actualize them. Many of the other prospective people in the village well aware of the futility of their hopes, only saw a bleak future thus chose to not join the group. However, the 17 members persevered, unperturbed by their neighbors’ lack of faith and would meet once every week to help each other out on their farms, preparing during the dry period and tiling during the rainy season.
All along, they had been looking for a partner to help them realize their dreams and it would be six good years before they heard of Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) – a Kenyan NGO that helps community groups increase water, food and incomes security. Initially, they were hesitant that their proposal would be rejected like so many before. It didn’t matter much, as the marginalization had now become a norm that they were now used to. When they heard about ASDF from neighboring community groups, they cautiously decided to approach them, though they were worried that the organization only helped construct sand dams yet there were no rivers to speak of in the hills.
They had However been reliably informed that apart from sand dams, ASDF also helped groups with other rain water harvesting techniques such like rock catchments. There being no rivers in their village, this was the most viable water abstraction technology. And so in late 2011, after a meeting with ASDF staff, Syumbe Rock catchment project was proposed. But first they had to go on exchange visit to an existing and functioning rock catchment project (Miamba Rock Catchment) to conceptualize the idea and see firsthand how it works. After that, preparation work began and the challenges of collecting the locally available materials like sand, rocks and water (from the streams at the foothill) were just a tip of the iceberg. This proved the hardest part of the construction process. It was replete with challenges such as lack of a good road network up to the project site. “The road was really steep and loaded lorries could not climb all the way up here. They thus dropped off hardware materials about 2 kilometers downhill and we had to go carry them on our backs all the way up. This would be the first thing we did every morning before we commenced work and it was really torturous,” says 62-year-old Theresia Mbithi Kilanga, a member of the group.
Collection of the local materials and construction of the 2 tanks & weir took 41/2 months to complete with a short break in between. Four and a half months later, their efforts paid off and after successful completion of the two 104M3 tanks, a water kiosk (a point of sale with a meter to track sales), things have never been the same again for them. The project, funded by Just a Drop, opened a floodgate of opportunities and marginalization became a thing of the past.
Their local representative in the county government was the first to come calling. “Our member of the county assembly (local representative, like a county MP in the new devolved government structure) first visited our village when the rock catchment and the first tanks were completed and promised to work with us from that time onwards.” said 75-year-old Ruth Mukulu Ndivo, a group member. With a sense of pride, she adds “He mobilized resources from the county government for construction of the road leading to our village and opened it up to the rest of the world!”
At this point, 61-year-old Juliana Nzyoka Mbatha bubbling with enthusiasm quipped in “Indeed, good things started happening to syumbe S.H.G and the entire village only after the construction of the rock catchment.” “Heifer International, a charitable organization, impressed by our hard work, commitment to self-empowerment and accomplishments donated 13 dairy cattle (to the entire group) and 4 poultry chicken for each of the 17 members. They estimated their total investment in the group through the dairy cattle and chicken at KES 1.8M”
Thanks to the rock catchment project, they now fetch water for their livestock from the kiosk, ensuring that they do not die of thirst. “The whole community appreciates our work here. They appreciate that they no longer have to walk long distances up/downhill in search of water as was previously the norm,” says Sarah Mumbua, another group member. “Now that the hard work is over and the benefits are there for all to see, many people from the neighbourhood want to join our group. We worked really hard on these tanks and made real sacrifices. We have put in place stringent conditions that one must meet before they are allowed to join us.” She adds.
The group chairman, 67-year-old Phillip Muasa Masesi, sums it thus: “We persevered because we knew good things would eventually come from the project. Our sweat and hard work has eventually been rewarded.” He adds with a sense of pride “We sell a 20 litre jerrican for KES 2/- and make between KES 600-700 in a day. We have since opened an account with the Kenya Commercial Bank and have KES 42,000/- in our bank account. In the immediate future, we intend to use the proceeds from sales to construct a third 104M3 tank. Our long term plan is investing in a maize milling machine”
Looking back a short 3 yrs down the line, one appreciates what a huge impact a single community project, achieved through working together can have on the lives of the inhabitants of an entire village!
A big Thank You Just a drop for helping us achieve sustainable goal number 17 “Revitalizing global partnerships for sustainable development!”