Gallery: REPORT FROM SOUTH AFRICA: Hippo Rollers Delivered!


Greetings from South Africa!

Regular readers of Inhabitat are hopefully aware of the exciting humanitarian design initiative called Project H Design, founded by our very own Emily Pilloton. Currently on the scene in South Africa right now, Project H has successfully delivered 75 ‘Hippo Rollers’ – an ingenious yet simple rolling barrel device that facilitates a more efficient and safer transport of daily water supply needs. The roller holds 3-4 days worth of water for a family of 7, about 5 times the amount of water that can be moved using traditional methods. It’s an amazing product and an amazing story of good design enabling communities. Inhabitat’s Emily Pilloton has just returned from delivering the Hippo Rollers to Kgautswane, and here’s what she has to say…

So much to report- and I could go on for days about the amazing weeks I have spent here – but I’ll just give you the highlights and let the photos tell the story better than I possibly could…. I arrived in Johannesburg on Monday and was greeted by Grant Gibbs, the man behind Hippo Roller, and welcomed into his family’s home just outside the city. After visiting the manufacturer and learning about the rotational molding and material processes behind the rollers’ production, we loaded up the trailer and headed out to Kgautswane, a rural community of upwards of 130,000, 5 hours drive from Johannesburg in the overwhelmingly picturesque Mpumalanga area of northeastern South Africa.

On Wednesday afternoon, we handed over the rollers to households selected by Clara Masinga, Kgautswane’s community leader- an amazing woman who really has been a voice and an inspiration to the whole community. On a side note, I gave Clara one of Project H’s “designcanchangetheworld” t-shirts, which she wore from sunrise to sunset on Thursday.

I spent the following 2 days with Grant and Clara, interviewing community members about the Hippo Roller (thousands of which are currently in use throughout Kgautswane), particularly regarding the way it enables families and quite simply, makes life easier. As we drove down the dusty roads around dusk, children rolled their Hippo Rollers home, and waved and smiled every time we passed.

This short synopsis barely tells the story (see attached photos), and I can’t thank Grant and Clara enough for their hospitality and help with the organization of this initiative. In the grand scheme of things, our small quantity of donated rollers probably made only a small mark, but I like to think Project H (and design in general) is all about providing tools to enable lives, and creating an impact beyond the immediate function. I would hope that the rollers aren’t just about transporting water, but that they bring some inspiration to do more.

More to come soon- thank you to each and every one of you for the support you’ve provided in every currency imaginable- money, pep talks, free rent (thanks Mom and Dad), a family away from home (thanks Grant and family!), goods, services, food, and patience.

Next stop- Uganda! Also stay tuned for updates on the Project H: Design for Education summer studio at the California College of Arts and our next initiative, Lifestraw Family water filters for Mumbai.

+ Project H Design
+ Support Project H Design
+ Project H Design at Greener Gadgets
+ Emily & Project H Design on Design21


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  1. Albert Kwessi October 11, 2014 at 6:55 pm


  2. Laurencia June 21, 2008 at 10:04 am

    I am amazed by your project, you are a genius, its good news for the rest of southern africa, I am more interested in how to go about fnding you and look for ways to bring that kind of service to the Namibians in rural areas as well.


  3. asources June 3, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Wonderful!…We love you Emily for what you’re doing! More power to you!

  4. talensja April 21, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Nice project Emily,,,,keep it rolling. God bless you.

  5. Pete P April 17, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Emily, Grant and all, nice going!… or nice doing! One concern I have about the design is how long will these Hippos last? How long before a hole is worn through the side from the abrasion from rolling them on rocky soil?

    A solution I thought of would be to add a couple of giant rubber bands around them to create a wear surface — essentially a small tire to absorb the majority of the abrasion. An idea for your consideration. ~Pete

  6. Kate Andrews April 17, 2008 at 7:25 am

    Congratulations Emily – this is so exciting and it would seem the Project H initiatives are really kicking off. This is such a great concept and I can’t wait to see the evolution of Project H over the next few years.


  7. lewis April 17, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Amazing how this sort of enabling technology is completely available right now, all it takes is for someone to actually DO it. To put in the time and get it out there. sweet work

  8. Peter Hoh April 16, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    When I first saw this design, the idea was to persuade manufacturers to switch to this kind of barrel, which could then be reused to carry water. Is that still in the works, or has that delivery model been dropped?

    I’m sure that the barrel is easier to roll with the metal bar. The prototype used a rope through the center.

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