Empower Playgrounds, Inc. enhances educational opportunities for children in deprived villages by providing renewable energy through electricity-generating playground equipment, smart LED lanterns, and hands-on science kits.
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, â€œWhat 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?â€
With help from faculty and students at Brigham Young University, engineering expertise was applied to create an innovative and viable solution: playground equipment that generates electricity from children's play! The concept was field tested and improved in Ghana. Kweku Anno, of Anno Engineering in Accra, converted the design to utilize local materials. After a rigorous process of school selection involving EPI social scientists and the Ghanaian Ministry of Education, Anno Engineering manufactured the systems and installed them in the selected schools. These schools not only benefit from EPI's electricity-generating play equipment, but also from a custom science education module, which helps to enhance the direct learning of rural student by using the play equipment as a living lab.
Thus was born Empower Playgrounds, Inc.
Initially, EPI hand modified LED camping lanterns so that they could be recharged by the EPI system. In 2009, Energizer Battery, Inc. became a sponsor for EPI, donating development of a smart LED lantern specifically designed for the EPI service. 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. Lantern life is expected to be at least 5 years.
In late 2010, Empower Playgrounds partnered with playground manufacturer Playworld Systems Inc. to begin manufacturing a crate full of electricity generating playground equipment for shipment around the world.
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In our age of vast technological advancement, it's strange to think that there are still communities without electricity. Yet over half of all citizens in rural developing communities are without access to this seemingly pervasive commodity. In fact, in the most dire of situations, national electrification rates can hardly reach 7%. According to the World Bank, only one in four Africans has access to electricity from a grid. This dearth, which is felt most poignantly by those in rural areas, has the effect of hindering social advancement. Pause for a moment to imagine your life without electricity. Imagine it without computers or phones, without a washer or dryer, without a heater, or an air conditioner, or a refrigerator. Imagine it, most specifically, without light. Living without such luxuries can compound our daily tasks, so we can easily imagine the added weight it places on people living in agricultural communities. These are the circumstances under which EPI works. Though not entirely to blame, this lack of electricity relates closely to the underachievement of education in developing countries. Without light at home or in their schools, children of rural communities find it difficult to study, read and do their homework at night. Because they assist on farms and at other chores until past sundown, there is often no natural light left for these children to see by when it comes time to study. When light is available, it's often via kerosene or disposable batteriesâ€”both of which are expensive for families struggling to survive, and ...See More neither of which is given to children first if other work is to be done. Furthermore, it has been found that school teachers are often reluctant to stay in communities such as this, because they are accustomed to the accouterments of urban lifeâ€”where electricity is at least somewhat more reliable. In all, it is quite apparent that a lack of electricity can severely affect the education of young children. Thereâ€™s more, however. Children need to play! Especially for children that work so hard to support their families, the opportunity for free play is essential. Yet in many rural villages, funds cannot be spared for the building of playgrounds despite the desire. It is common, in many part of the developing world, to find school yards as vacant fields or dirt. Thus, in a unique and innovative development, Empower Playgrounds seeks to combine the answer for electricity with the answer for play into electricity-generating playgrounds. In developing countries, approximately 88% of diarrheal diseases are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions. Without access to clean water sources, people in Ghana rely on rain or river water for drinking, bathing, and washing dishes. Unfortunately these water sources often hold tiny worms and bacteria that can cause the diarrheal diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, and dysentery. If children are sick, they can't go to school. Not only does improved sanitation help children stay healthy, sanitation can also increase children's cognition. According to a 2013 study conducted by the World Bank this improved cognitive ability leads to higher test scores. Girls' education is particularly impacted by sanitation. Girls often have to walk long distances to fetch water and firewood in the early morning. Being â€˜needed at homeâ€™ is a major reason why children, especially girls from poor families, drop out of school. Providing water closer to homes increases girlsâ€™ free time and boosts their school attendance. Furthermore, a lack of separate and decent sanitation and washing facilities discourages girls who are menstruating from attending full time, often adding up to a significant proportion of school days missed. Show Less