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Empower Playgrounds Harnesses the Power of Play

With the tagline­, “Lighting the world with recess,” U.S.-based nonprofit Empower Playgrounds has developed electricity-generating playground equipment that channels the unbridled liveliness of children in rural communities. So far, their merry-go-round and accompanying science kits have been brought to sixteen schools in Ghana.

Empower Playgrounds was founded in 2007 by ExxonMobil Research and Engineering’s former Vice President of Engineering, Ben Markham, and developed in partnership by Brigham Young University’s (BYU) engineering department. The team at BYU worked to design Empower Playgrounds’ merry-go-round so that the equipment captures the kinetic energy of the kids playing on it. This energy is then stored in a car battery that recharges several dozen portable LED lanterns. These lanterns were originally camping-grade models, but in 2009 Energizer became a sponsor of Empower Playgrounds and provided the organization with specifically designed LED lights. These new lights have a shelf life of five years and provide the equivalent of a 25-watt light bulb that lasts for over 40 hours.

Now, what is the big deal about these lights? Why is this technology so valuable?

Ghana’s location just above the equator does well to explain this need. Its location causes the country to experience around 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness each day. This means that Ghanaians are forced to spend around half their lives in the darkness. This affects the country’s young people in particular, because they are usually part of the daily agricultural work force while also trying to attend school. With a limited amount of daylight, young people are often forced to sacrifice their studies to help on the family farm.

Empower Playgrounds is providing these young people with the light they need to carry out their schoolwork after the day turns dark. The children at each school are divided by neighborhood into “lantern groups,” where they can study at night around the same lantern.

In addition to providing a valuable source of light, Empower Playgrounds’ equipment serves as a practical science lab, through which teachers can demonstrate concepts in mechanics, physics, and energy transfer. In collaboration with science equipment manufacturer Loose in the Lab, Empower Playgrounds has developed a science kit and lesson plans to teach these concepts using demonstrations on the merry-go-round.

Through these practical lessons and the provision of high-quality lanterns, children in Ghana have become more excited about going to school and helping to solve the electricity shortages in many rural areas of Ghana.

– Tara Young

Sources: Empower Playgrounds, Fast Company, Clean Technica, Revolve Magazine
Photo: Treehugger