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LDS man creates light, changes lives in Africa

For Ben Markham, founder of Empower Playgrounds, the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants, “For of him unto whom much is given much is required...,” has carried his tired feet from village to village in Ghana, Africa, building a brighter future for their youth.

With the news of Playworld Systems now merging with Empower Playgrounds, the dreams of thousands of children may be only a “whirl” away. Markham now has the man power to deliver his energy-generating merry-go-rounds to more villages, thus lighting their darkening nights and brightening their futures.

Markham calls these merry-go-rounds “whirls” and has spent the last three years working with school districts all over Ghana to make doing homework a possibility.

“In talking with the schools head master,” Markham said, “we learned that children don’t do homework.” When the sun goes down, activities slow down. Teachers would not send homework home because children had no light to see with. Even during the day, some school buildings did not provide enough light for children to read their texts.

While Markham was serving as a missionary with his wife, he found it very difficult to read in these buildings and asked himself, “How do kids ever learn?” From this question sparked many ideas and today more than 3,000 children and young adults have benefited from the whirl’s capacity to bring more than 45 hours of charged light.

“Our goal is develop kits that that can be assembled any where,” Markham said. By 2012, Empower Playgrounds hopes to go global. Its growth has relied fully on donations and the help other companies who have wanted to make a difference for the remote village children that may only receive a fourth grade education.

With light now a reality for many villages, children are advancing much faster and at a rate that not even Markham could have prepared for. In one year of installing the first playground in Ghana, reports of children advancing to seventh grade rose 22 percent from the year before. After three years of seeing the whirls, one third of village children received scholarships to attend high school. In a country where the government doesn’t pay for high school, attending is very expensive and impossible for many families. The teachers and schoolmasters say that being able to do homework was the difference for those students who will now be attending high school.

The girls that grow up in these villages may not receive enough education to learn how to read. Their children will not be taught at home and must rely on school to educate them. Markham believes that when a woman is educated and can help her children, they will all be blessed.

“These women will become readers,” Markham said, “and their children will become readers, and that will make a big difference.”

The gospel is far from reaching these remote villages, but children running in circles on their first playground equipment are paving the path. From running to reading, these children have a resource that will open many doors because light will finally reach their lives.

One-seventh grade girl has become a beacon for her small family and hut community. She is the lantern leader and is responsible for taking light to her home to help other children do their homework. One of Markham’s partners recalled an event when he did a surprise visit to one of the villages and saw this young girl writing numbers and letters on a small piece of chalkboard. She had a few smaller children at her feet with the lantern shining on their faces practicing for the next day. She not only used the lantern for her reading, but had become a teacher for the younger kids that lived with her.

For one twelve-year-old boy the idea of turning a switch on and off for light had never crossed his mind. This young boy followed Markham one day asking him questions and when Markham finally showed him what he was doing the boy couldn’t believe he had seen light. He asked if he could show his friend the new lantern.

Markham’s advice for others is to live without electricity for one day—no oven, no fridge that stays on all day, no running water and no late-night reading to remember how blessed our lives are. For the children of these villages, Markham and his crew have made it possible to dream in the light.

For more information visit empowerplaygrounds.org.

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