Haiti, says Bruce Leep, was really hot. His photos
show a collection of small, white shelters called Habi-
Huts, grouped in a meadow. This February, Bruce
and his brother, Brian, both Montanans, spent five
days in Jacmel, a half hour outside Port-au-Prince.
Working with a group of eight local men, they set up
the village of shelters for earthquake survivors. With
three people working, each hut went up—with ease,
aside from the heat—in about two hours.

Through HabiHut, Bruce has also worked in Kenyan
slums. “To be there and see, smell and hear how bad
it is, was a big eye opener,” he says.

For 20 years, Bruce and his father Eldon had a construction
business together in Montana. They first
started designing the HabiHut in 2008. While creating
the concept, the Leeps partnered with Ronald Omyonga,
a Kenyan architect who’d worked with MSU
engineering students. Omyonga suggested designing
a shelter that was easy to put up, lightweight and low
cost. They wanted it to be long-lasting, strong, easy to
disassemble and move, resistant to wind, rain and fire,
expandable and environmentally friendly.

They came up with a 400-pound, 118-square-foot
structure made of durable, corrugated polypropylene
and high strength aluminum. The hexagonal floor
plan and high-pitched roof create 100 percent space
usage, and the roof and windows allow cross ventilation.
The double panel walls repel rain, wind, dust
and UV, and insulate from outside temperatures.
Minimal tools are required for setup. A single unit
can be packed in a 96”x 48”x 24” box, costs $2500
U.S., and is recyclable.

“[This is] the first time I’ve seen the world from a
global point of view,” says Eldon, who was also a
minister for many years. “I was born and raised in the
Gallatin Valley, and that’s really all I saw for most of
my life. Now I’m seeing much more, and caring about
much more.”

Back in Montana, the Leeps and HabiHut President
Buz Weas are reviewing Bruce’s trip to Haiti, as well
as another recent success: Last year, in cooperation
with NGOs, HabiHut installed three solar/water
kiosks in Kenya.

The units took a day to install, versus the six months
it takes other established water kiosks—and at a third
less the cost. Solar panels provided light and cell
phone charging. During the first three months, 85
percent of total sales were in water, and 15 percent
in phone charging. Open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., each
kiosk served an average of 2,600 customers monthly.
At night, the solar-powered lights provided added
neighborhood safety, another advantage over other
existing kiosks.

SIDA, a Swedish NGO that was involved in the program,
says this pilot was one of their most successful
projects that year. Based on the program’s success and
proven financial viability, HabiHut is creating the
“Hot Spring Micro-Franchise” initiative, a turn-key
business ready to sell to micro-entrepreneurs for immediate
in the developing world. In addition to water
sales and phone charging, the franchises will offer
billboard advertising and pre-paid cell phone card
sales as additional revenue streams.

The Initiative will work with cell phone service providers,
cell phone trade associations, water NGOs,
and micro-finance organizations. Weas says HabiHut
is “very close to signing one of the world’s largest
companies as a major sponsor.” That company is a
significant player in water technology. “We are also
pretty far along in dialogue with a key mobile phone
carrier that will sponsor this initiative,” he adds.
HabiHut will announce these strategic partnerships
in April. “If we convince them in the whole
enchilada, that would be a million dollar project,”
Weas says.

Their goals for the initial Kenyan program are:

1. To provide 100,000 people with clean drinking
water. The average person needs 2.5 liters
of water per day. They plan to provide 5 liters
per day, per person.
2. Provide cellular charging for 2,500 phones
per day.
3. Provide 100 economically sustainable microfranchise
businesses.
4. Provide 150 jobs.
5. Provide shelters for 100 families.
HabiHut’s creators are thinking big: “The potential
to help people is awesome,” says Eldon.
“Potentially millions of people could benefit.”

Company President Buz Weas, a successful entrepreneur
and former Yellowstone Club builder,
says it’s different being involved with a company
that has social responsibility.

“None of us have been paid anything for our
efforts for the last year and a half. We keep
scratching our way forward and pushing on this
thing hard, just because we really want to make a
difference.”