The organization is built on the early work of Utooni Development Project,
an indigenous self-help group formed by Joshua and six families in 1978.
Utooni Development Organization(UDO) was founded in 2002 and registered as an NGO in 2005.
How we started
Joshua Mukusya grew up near Kola, a town near the present border between Machakos and Makueni Counties. As a young boy he was often sent down the hill to fetch water in whatever container he could find then carry it back up the hill to his mother. If he spilled a drop on the way he received a vivid reminder of why you should be careful. As he grew he wondered why it is that rain falls on his house and runs off downhill, then later he has to run downhill to fetch it. Why not catch it before it runs away (Mukusya, personal communication July 2011).
Not much later, In the 1970’s he worked with the National Christian Council of Kenya (NCCK). In NCCK Joshua worked with a man named Ndunda who had built dams with the British in the 1950’s. Joshua visited some of these dams with Ndunda and saw that many were filled with sediment, primarily sand. When you dug in the sand behind the dam water was there even in the driest of seasons. The thought came to him at the time, why not build dams intentionally to capture the sand. Within NCCK he had seen literature about sub-surface dams used to slow subsurface flow of water to allow pastoralists to water their animals without the need to dig deeply and lift the water to the animal. The subsurface dams enabled the animals to drink the water directly. This would not work in Machakos very well since the river had too steep a slope and the amount of sand trapped would be minimal. By constructing a dam between 1 and 3 meters high they could capture more sand and therefore more water in the pore space between the sand grains. Joshua envisioned this happening, but to do this took more than simply a vision.
To build a dam on a stream in Kenya required permission from the regional government and you had to apply for permission to do this. Individuals could not apply; the application had to come from a registered group. It so happened that Joshua and his wife Rhoda were involved with a group of people in discussions about what they could do to better their own situation and the status of the community. In 1978 these 6 families started a self-help group they called Utooni Development Group. They paid their dues, developed a group charter, selected a president, vice-president, treasurer and secretary and where duly granted official status by the Kenyan government. They had a number of things that they wanted to do, among them were planting trees, digging terraces to stop erosion, building guesthouses, improving agriculture, and above all improving the water situation. So the first thing they pursued was the building of the first intentional sand dam in the area.
The Utooni Development Group’s success at supplying water for itself did not immediately lead to repetition. That came with time and many meetings to understand the dynamics of change in the communities. The reality is that the social context of a community, how people relate to each other, to neighboring communities and the government is more important than the technology of building a dam. Dams are community structures that meet a basic need. It is the community that must decide they want and need one. Joshua recognized that without the community structure in place and solidly grounded, a dam alone would not solve the problems they faced. The organizational structure was essential before the dam was built. The Utooni Development Organization, which is a direct descendent of the Utooni Development Group, recognizes this reality, spending much of its time and energy encouraging formation of community self-help groups and addressing water and agricultural issues. Help is not just a sand dam. Help comes in developing the community to the point where members can help themselves.