Empower Playgrounds, Inc.: Light to Learn

Using playtime to fuel homework.

January 22, 2016
the rodale 100 empower playgrounds
Photograph courtesy of Empower Playgrounds, Inc.

Typically, less than 10 percent of kids from rural Ghana, West Africa, enter high school because Ghana is near the Equator, which means it gets dark around 6PM every day, all year, and many rural villages are completely off the nation's power grid. But when young children finish school, they are expected to help support their families at home or on farms, and after dinner, it's too dark to study, putting out of reach the entrance exams they are required to take to win scholarships to the few boarding high schools available to them.

When Ben Markham and his wife volunteered as Mormon missionaries in rural Ghana, he decided to do something about it. In 2007, Markham founded Empower Playgrounds, Inc., a non-profit organization that sets up special playground Merry-Go-Rounds in these villages.

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When children push them during recess, a turbine creates energy with which schools recharge batteries to light LED lanterns for as long as 40 hours. The kids then take home the lanterns and gain the badly needed study time. EPI installed its 45th Merry-Go-Round last year, and started donating hands-on science and library-starter kits to participating schools — as well as offering high school scholarships to girls who pass their exams in these villages.

A lot of education comes through play.

"I dreamed this up, and it has worked out better than my dreams," Markham says. "Several of these villages have never sent a kid to high school, and are now starting to send one or two a year. Imagine the impact over time."

child empower playground
Image courtesy of Empower Playgrounds, Inc.