For students in rural Ghana, Africa, recess means much more than a thrilling game of freeze tag. Thanks to Ben Markham, retired Vice-President of Engineering at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, playtime means generating enough electricity to power classroom lights and lanterns used at home for studying. Birthed in 2007, Markham founded Empower Playgrounds Inc., a public charity venture that installs playground equipment in rural areas of developing countries. These merry-go-rounds (which slightly resemble the clean water system we previously featured on Inhabitots: PlayPump), charge LED lanterns for up to 40 hours of energy or the equivalent to a 25-watt light bulb. Best of all, one lantern can last up to five years offering a long-term sustainable solution to the electricity challenges of the developing world.

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So how did a retired corporate engineer get involved in such a project? Well, when Markham and his wife decided to volunteer in Ghana for 18 months, he witnessed the lack of lighting in the local schools and homes. Nearly 550 million people live without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. 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?”

Markham tapped the expertise of students and engineers at Brigham Young University to develop the concept for an energy-generating playground that would also serve as a hands-on science kit for kids. To date, over 30 “whirls”—as they are called—have been installed throughout Ghana.

In 2009, Energizer Battery joined in on the project as a sponsor developing and donating a smart lantern. These lanterns contain a computer chip that manages the charging of the battery and LED lights to protect against drainage to ensure long battery life. A solar panel is connected to the power enclosure on the merry-go-round for educational instruction and also helps to prevent the battery from discharging during school breaks.

Learn more about this incredible system and find out how you can donate a lantern to this project.

+ Empower Playgrounds, Inc.

Images via Empower Playgrounds