Ben Markham, Founder
What is Empower Playgrounds?
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.
How do you implement it?
Find local electrical engineer/solar expert to help find needed parts and set installation date (See resources list).Read more ›
Tough Light, an EPI sponsor, has developed and currently supplies the “smart” LED lanterns purchased and used in EPI systems.Read more ›
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!
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.Read more ›
Contact Empower Playgrounds
Light the world with recess!Read more ›
Learn how to implement Empower Playgrounds merry-go-round by reaching out.