I learned about this ingenious invention while at Phinda Rock Lodge in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. Phinda is run by &Beyond, a luxury safari/vacation company that has always distinguished itself by it’s huge commitment to local communities. The &Beyond guest experience is top-of-the-line luxury, and the give-back relationships with the communities where the lodges reside are inspiring. There are so many projects steered by &Beyond that are dedicated to conservation, education, medical care, cultural preservation, employment, housing, and more. One of the “Ah Ha” projects for me, is the Hippo Roller that the &Beyond folks give to the communities.

You probably already know that fetching potable water can be a daily job that takes hours away from the everyday life of a child or woman–certainly it’s a job prioritized over school or work for economic stability for the family–and it is a job that never ends. If a kid has to walk an hour or two, one way, to a water source, with a gallon plastic jug in each hand, or maybe a five-gallon pickle bucket to drag or balance on top of his or her head for the walk back…that is a morning gone, and perhaps will need to be repeated again in the evening. The Hippo Roller is a sturdy, plastic, 24-gallon water barrel with a secure sealing lid and an aluminum handle like a lawnmower that attaches to the sides of the barrel when it is laid on its side. Pushing or pulling the rolling barrel is easier, faster, and increases the amount of water fetched by 4 or 5 times. If a child only has to make a water run once a day, or once every other day, and the family has more than enough water at the home…that child can go to school, or that mother can work outside the home or care more directly for the children or create products for sale for economic stability or otherwise free up valuable time. This simple invention opens up health (sanitation and hydration with enough water), education, and economic health for entire communities. A plus of the project, to my mind, is that it was designed in Africa, for Africa, by South Africans, and the rollers are durable with a lifespan of 7 or more years of daily rugged use.

Tens of thousands of Hippo Rollers have been distributed by NGOs and company partners, like &Beyond, to communities so far. Hundreds of thousands of people are being helped by a big plastic barrel.

So easy. So intuitive.

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About The Author

Andrew Mersmann's picture

Andrew is the author of Frommer's global guide to volunteer vacations, "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" (Gold Medal Winner from Society of American Travel Writers: Best Guide Book 2010). He spent more than a decade on the editorial team of PASSPORT Magazine. He has volunteered and led teams on service projects around the world, and is honored to be on the boards of directors for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation ( and Mentor Artists Playwrights Project ( Mersmann has been a featured speaker, interview guest, or moderator on several travel talks, from the New York Times Travel Show, Smithsonian Associates, and the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa to Oprah and Friends, Animal House, and The Focus Group on satellite radio as well as on NY1 television. Past participant at the Clinton Global Initiative and judge for Condé Nast World Changers Conference, he blogs about volunteering and service travel at As part of the evox television team, he is dedicated to audience engagement, so if you're not engaged, he needs to be thumped on the head (gently)...or at least told (nicely). Twitter: /ChangeByDoing

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