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Empower Playgrounds

place Ghana + 1 more

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

A unique off-the-grid power solution for schools: children play on a merry-go-round that charges lanterns, which the students can take home and use to study in small groups.

HundrED 2018


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2018

Web presence






March 2017
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?

About the innovation

What are Empower Playgrounds?

Many areas in rural Ghana do not have access to electricity. Among the other problems this causes, lack of electricity means that children are unable to study in the evening after it gets dark. Most students spend daylight hours at school and then assist with family choresin 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 give them the opportunity tofurther their education.Childrenin 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 from ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, Ben Markhammoved to Ghanato volunteer. In rural villages, Ben observed the darkness of homes and school classrooms. He also saw the scarcity of play equipment in schoolyards. In collaborationwith a local engineer in Ghana and a USuniversity engineering program, Ben created Empower Playgrounds, based the concept of generating off-the-grid power through merry-go-rounds. This initial idea has since been expanded to bring electricty to rural communities through solar power as well.

After conducting a needs assessment at schools in Ghana, Empower Playgrounds decided to have the system charge lanterns instead of installing permanent lights at the school. Lanterns provide portable light that students can use to learn wherever they need to study, at school or at home.

To avoid theft and promote teamwork,lanterns are given a to group of students who liveclose together. Each group has a leader whois responsiblefor assembling the group every evening and returning the lantern to charge after they have finished studying. This role rotates among the students.Teachers and communities are educated to encourage them to support the program. A local electrical engineer is on-call in case of any major malfunctions, but teachers and community leaders are trained in basic maintenance.

In addition to the electricity-generating play equipment, the schools involved benefit from a custom science education kit. 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 skills.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


The innovativeness is in harnessing the energy of children to power light sources that they can use to further their own education. The merry-go-rounds themselves can also be used to teach technology and engineering skills. Children can see the motor inside the merry-go-round through a glass window.


Schools with Empower Playgrounds see an average increase in enrolment of 20%. The playgrounds have facilitated 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 are installed in over 50 schools across Ghana, West Africa and Mali. The merry-go-rounds are more difficult to scale as they require engineering skills to manage, but the simpler solar version is easily scalable.

Implementation steps

Get in touch
For anyone interested in installing a merry-go-round or solar solution through Empower Playgrounds, the first step is to get in touch to find out more.

Head to the Empower Playgrounds website or scroll down for their contact details.

Find an engineer
An electrical engineer or solar expert is crucial to help collate all the equipment needed and manage the installation.

If there are no engineers or solar experts in the local area, Empower Playgrounds can assist in bringing one onboard to support the project.

Get the community onboard
Support from the school and the wider community will ensure the project has the greatest chance of success.

Prior to installation, make sure that teachers and community members know all about the project. Work with teachers to organisestudents into lanterngroups based on proximity. Both teachers and community members can even come to help with the installation when it takes place.

Train students, teachers and parents
Make sure that everyone involved in the project understands how it will work.

Explain how the system will work to the lantern group leaders. For example, students should not use the lanterns in the kitchenor let their parents use them for cooking, because the heat from the fire can damage the lanterns.Lanterns should also be kept away from water. Group members should be gathered every evening to study for a few hours. Parents and community members should also be informed of how the lantern group works and be encouraged to support thechildren.

Ensure long-term sustainability
Students are responsible for the lanterns themselves, but encouragement and support from parents and teachers is very valuable.

Teachers or community members should follow upon the groups throughout each term, making drop-in visits in the evening as well as talking to the children about the projectduring school. Lanterns should be collected at the end of each term so that the school cancheck they are all working well.

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