Brand South Africa: Water, dignity and the Hippo Roller Project

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Brand South Africa writer Melissa Javan talked to Darren Smith and Grant Gibbs about the Hippo Roller Project. Darren, who handles the donor and media engagement for Hippo Roller, and Grant, executive director, are both Play Your Part ambassadors. Play Your Part is a national movement by Brand South Africa to encourage active citizenship and social cohesion.

Excerpts from the interview:

Melissa Javan: Why did you get involved in this project?

Darren Smith: I have followed Grant’s journey with the Hippo Roller almost since its inception more than 20 years ago. When the opportunity arose to join the team, I jumped at it. Personally and professionally the whole reason to be of the Hippo Roller energised me. “Simple ideas. Changing lives.” This is our “why”. This gets us up in the mornings.

MJ: Who are the beneficiaries?

DS: Millions of women and children struggle daily to collect water. It is for this group that the Hippo Roller has an immediate and profound impact. It significantly improves their ability to collect more water, more efficiently, and empowers them to spend more time on education and other important tasks in the home and community.

MJ: How do you choose beneficiaries?

DS: There are seldom enough to go around in any given community, and so they are diligently allocated and distributed to the neediest first (women, child-headed homes, the elderly or frail) by the local community leaders.

We have discovered too, that a Hippo Roller is never idle. Often it is shared widely, and works hard, each Hippo Roller potentially meeting the needs of dozens of people. In a recent project in Mozambique, for example, 30 Hippo Rollers are serving the needs of nearly 4,000 people.

MJ: How do they benefit?

DS: Time is our most precious resource. By addressing the difficulty of retrieving water, the Hippo Roller simply buys more time. In turn, that time can be put to more productive use for education, social development and local entrepreneurship.

MJ: How can people get involved?

DS: Many current community development initiatives around the world, with a completely different focus from water, can be more effective in the communities they serve just by improving access to water.

Even NGOs that install wells and boreholes could serve a wider territory by including Hippo Rollers from the same borehole. Water is something that most of us just don’t think about. But for millions, it’s all they think about, every single day.

A first step then, would be to visit Even if you can’t donate, sharing the knowledge and spreading the word goes a long way to keeping the visibility of the water crisis high.

In a conversation with a teenage girl, Grant realised that the basic human need for dignity could be easily overlooked. He describes the conversation with this girl as one of his highlights of the project.

Grant Gibbs: “In South Sudan, where I interviewed a teenage girl, I asked why she liked the Hippo Roller so much and she responded without hesitation: ‘Because now I can look like a city girl.’ She explained that she could not braid her hair to look attractive when carrying heavy buckets of water on her head,” he says.

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