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How can a different sources of power enable students to keep on learning?

Empower Playgrounds

Marker Ghana, Africa
Empower Playgrounds provides off-the grid power solutions to schools in Ghana, West Africa. The power generated charges lanterns students take hope to study in groups of 4-5 students.
Introduction

What is Empower Playgrounds?

Crys Lee
“What if a portion of the playful energy from these children could be harnessed? What if that energy could become light for their classrooms and homes?”

Ben Markham, Founder

Many areas in rural Ghana do not have access to electricity. Amongst other problems, lack of electricity means students in these areas are unable to study in the evening after it gets dark. Most students spend daylight hours at school and then assist with chores and the family's economic activities in the afternoon, so the evening is often their only time to study.

Students must take a competitive entrance exam to be admitted into secondary school, which would allow them to further enhance their education and help their families, but students in rural areas without electricity are at a disadvantage when preparing for this next step. This causes many children's education to be cut short, perpetuating the poverty cycle. 

After retiring as Vice-President of Engineering at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, Ben Markham and his wife moved to Ghana, Africa for eighteen months to volunteer.  In rural villages, Ben observed the darkness of homes and school classrooms.  He also saw the scarcity of play equipment in schoolyards.  Touched by their happy smiles, Ben thought, “What if a portion of the playful energy from these children could be harnessed?  What if that energy could become light for their classrooms and homes?”  

Through working with a local engineer in Ghana and a US based University engineering program the concept of off-the grid power through a merry-go-round that generates electricity was created. After doing a needs assessment at schools in Ghana, Empower Playgrounds decided to have the system charge lanterns instead of installing permanent lights at the school. From talking with communities and villages that the schools and homes needed light for the students to be able to effectively learn. So lanterns were adopted.

To avoid theft and to promote group learning and accountability, the program decided to give lanterns to group of students who live in the same compound or close together having a rotating lantern group leader who is responsibly for assembling the group each evening and returning the lantern to charge when it is finished. Teachers and communities are educated to ensure their support of the program and greater sustainability. A local electrical engineer is on-call in case of any major malfunctions, but teachers and community leaders are trained on basic maintenance.

Empower Playgrounds create merry-go-rounds that use the children's energy to charge a battery, which in turn powers a smart lantern. The smart lantern has a computer chip inside that manages both the charging of the custom battery pack and the operation of the special LED lights. Lighting equivalent to a 25 watt light bulb for over 40 hours is provided by each recharge, allowing students to study after dark.

The schools involved not only benefit from EPI’s electricity-generating play equipment, but also from a custom science education module. This helps to enhance the education that rural students receive by using the play equipment as a living lab, teaching students hands-on engineering and technology.

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Intended Outcomes
Access to education is increased
Gender equity is improved
Learners develop scientific understanding
Children have access to learning through play
6
Likes
ALL
Target Group
2007
Established
Resources Needed
At least 2 people are needed to implement a project like this. This would include an electrical engineer or a solar expert to help set-up the equipment and train the interested teacher in how to run the program. Empower Playgrounds, recommends that every program spend time getting the entire school staff and community on-board to ensure the best sustainability. Equipment can be installed with-in day after all the parts are collected. Empower Playgrounds uses a merry-go-round to generate the electricity which they can help anyone purchase at-cost- (around $10,000 USD) including a high-tech battery system and tough-light lanterns. They have also developed a simple solar panel solution that charges the batteries using a 250-watt solar panel and battery system. Equipment needed- 150Amp Hours battery, Charge controller, Junction Box, Metal battery protection case, 250 watt panel, and 40-50 lanterns.
HundrED Criteria
innovativeness
impact
scalability
The idea that harnessing children’s energy can become an efficient light source they can use to help themselves. The way the merry go round works there's a visible plexiglass so children can see the motor inside. It's also used to teach as well as Empower Playgrounds supply science materials to all teachers with the merry-go-round.
Upon installation the school, on average, sees a 20% enrolment increase. Empower playgrounds has facilitated around 3.5 million hours of light generation used by 15,000 children. This has resulted in a significant increase in learning retention as children can review work and continue learning at home.
Empower Playgrounds Inc has installed over 50 merry-go-rounds at schools all over Ghana, West Africa & Mali. The merry-go-round project is more difficult to scale as it requires people with the skill set to manage the merry-go-round, but the simpler solar version is easily scalable.
Steps

How do you implement it?

01

Engineer expertise

Engineer expertise Find local electrical engineer/solar expert to help find needed parts and set installation date (See resources list).

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02

Led lanterns

Tough Light, an EPI sponsor, has developed and currently supplies the “smart” LED lanterns purchased and used in EPI systems.

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The lantern has 400 Super Bright Lumens with a Premium 6000mAh Li-ion battery and lasts for16.6 nights of light from a single charge (200 HRS on LOW Setting). Military-grade rubber and plastic molds with built in rubber O-rings, provides IPX-6 water resistance to handle wet conditions. This Tough Light is durable and can handle a drop from 5 feet with no damage. You can donate one of these amazing lanterns here!

03

Solar panels

A solar panel is also connected to the power enclosure for educational purposes and to prevent battery purposes and to prevent battery discharging during school breaks. The CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) solar panel provides additional system energy when school is in session.

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04

Contact Empower Playgrounds

Light the world with recess!

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Learn how to implement Empower Playgrounds merry-go-round by reaching out. 

Community

What does it look like in practice?

Innovator
Used in
Lighting the Night: Mirabell's Story
Background of Empower Playgrounds

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