By Natalie Crofts
The project that continues to bring light to students in Ghana is also providing opportunities for locals to learn.
Empower Playgrounds uses merry-go-rounds as a fun way to generate electricity for students in Ghana to study by at night.
With the lanterns, students are able to strengthen their reading skills by meeting in groups and reading from their own books. Before, only one student would read the assignment out loud and the others would repeat it.
“It's a different thing to not have electricity,” said Creighton Brown, an intern currently in Ghana. “Most of us in the U.S. don't think anything of going home and flipping the lights on to study for a couple of hours.”
In addition to providing light to read by, one of the primary objectives of the organization is to provide hands-on learning experiences for the students.
Steve Shumway, a professor of technology and engineering education, worked with students at BYU to develop lessons and activities. Shumway traveled to Ghana last year to try out the curriculum and is now in the process of refining the lessons.
“Providing the opportunity to learn is just as important as actually having the electricity,” Shumway said. “We want to them to learn and understand the principles of science and how to use it in their lives.”
The merry-go-round itself provides an object lesson for students, as well as being an additional incentive to attend school.
One of the lessons teaches students how the merry-go-round is able to generate power and ties it back to them, so that while the students play they can understand what is happening.
Empower Playgrounds is thinking about other ways to help people learn, including community literacy classes and adding an MP3 player to the lantern to play lectures.
Every aspect of installing the merry-go-round is intended to be educational, including construction.
Two mechanical engineering students interning in Ghana, Brown, a senior from Colton, Ore. and Paul Jubber, a senior from Murray, completed an instruction manual so that others can understand how to build the merry-go-round. One of the long-term goals of Empower Playgrounds is to bring the project to other countries.
“We should be able to hand it to someone in a different country and as long as they can speak English they will be able to put it together,” Brown said.
Merry-go-rounds are built entirely by Ghanaians, which gives them the opportunity to learn more.
“They have a really strong work ethic,” Brown said. “They don't let a lack of tools set them back, whatever it takes they'll get it done.”
Empower Playgrounds currently has seven merry-go-rounds installed that benefit over a thousand Ghanaian children. They plan to build 20 more by the end of the year depending on fundraising.
Before the light from the merry-go-round lanterns, students would use kerosene lamps that didn't give off much light and could be dirty.
“When I tried reading with the kids I could hardly see,” said Sarah Hall, executive director of Empower Playgrounds. “I wondered how they weren't all going blind.”
A BYU documentary about the project premiered on campus March 25. The documentary is called “A Turn for Ghana: Bringing Light to the Children of Africa.”