In the first years of EPI, finding village schools with no connection to the electric grid was an adventure. During the next several years as Ghana prospered, the grid expanded, and EPI was growing to 50 schools, the adventure required travel further from the comfort of cities. Now as we grow toward 75 schools, after long rides on bad roads, I look at the Ghanaian team and ask,“How did you ever find this school!!!” Though meant to be a rhetorical question, the serious reply is often that it was a referral by an education professional who has seen the EPI system working in another location. EPI is becoming well known among educators and has a strong reputation of doing good things well.
I am in Ghana as I write this message. I have heard wonderful student success stories. I have witnessed the student and teacher excitement to have lanterns for evening study. I have walked into deprived schools full of beautiful, curious children who want to learn.
Thank you from the children, parents, teachers and the whole EPI team for making the future a little brighter.
Ben S. Markham
Founder & Board President
Building a Future
Imagine your 10 year old self trying to focus on your teacher while the hot sun beats directly on your head, as chickens and goats surround you, as wind blows your papers from your desk or the rain begins to wipe the chalkboard of the math problem you were working on. This is not a conducive learning environment, but many dedicated students and teachers in rural Ghana make it work.
This perseverance and desire to learn is what motivated Empower Playgrounds to include classroom building into our project model. Our goal is to provide children safe, clean, learning environments where they can become the best students possible. Read more under our school construction portion to learn how Empower Playgrounds is helping to build a future for these students.
Crys Kevan Lee
Last year our focus was to evaluate our current MGR project in order to determine the efficiency and impact of our project. We particularly focused on student’s reading comprehension. It is our hope that EPI’s merry-go-round and lantern project will empower students to improve their reading skills. From our data collection we found that the following factors were significant in a child’s ability to read well: The child’s grade level, whether or not the mother was living at home, lifetime lantern usage, quantity of teachers at a school, and whether or not the school has a library. We have been focusing on retraining our schools on how to successfully use the lanterns and on adding libraries to our schools.
1 merry-go-round installed in Fanterela, Mali
The girls full-ride scholarship program was created in partnership with the Roberts Family Foundation to provide opportunity for girls from the island villages of Pediatorkope and Alorkpem with a desire to continue their education and who meet the admission requirements to attend high school. With the Government’s new program of making the first year of high school free, we have only expanded our project to cover the costs of books and supplies for a few girls who have graduated from EPI schools in the past year. We are also continuing to sponsor our three amazing scholarship recipients: Martha, Gladys, and Jennifer. They are currently working on their nal year of high school and are doing well. All are on track to graduate in 2019.
We delivered 561 kits to 13 schools throughout Ghana. Empower Playgrounds partners with two organizations, Days for Girls (a global organization) and Sankofa (a local Ghanaian organization). Each kit contains reusable pads, soap, wash cloths, panties, absorbent liners, a drawstring bag or zippered pouch, and plastic zip bags for washing used pads. Peace Yeri is our menstruation kit project manager. She conducts trainings at the schools and meets with the headmasters and PTA leaders to discuss the project. Whenever EPI introduces a new project to a school we try to inform and involve community members as well as school leaders to ensure the project’s adoption and ultimate success.
We are proud to now have 10 libraries located in Ghana. In 2018, Wurudu Wurudu, Fawotrikosie, Dagomba, and Community School 3 received libraries in partnership with the African Library project. According to many studies conducted by UNCESCO, literacy is key to reaching a higher standard of living. In countries like Ghana, where up to 70% of rural inhabitants are illiterate, there is a shortage of educational funding and most resources go towards teachers and classrooms. There is simply no place in the budget for supplementary reading materials, let alone a library. Our partnership with the African Library Project enables us to bring libraries to our schools in Ghana at an affordable cost.
Over the past year our small pilot computer lab at Attabui Primary and Junior High School has been doing well. The school has added a second Information and Communications Technology (ICT) teacher. They now have a separate teacher for their Junior High School classes. Ghana includes ICT classes in their curriculum, so the computer lab simply makes the learning process easier for those students. Special thanks to the Roberts Family Foundation who initially funded the project and Utah based TAMS Computers who helped to supply 10 affordable laptops for the lab.
We continue to do research on the progress and the effectiveness of the Science Kit project. We found that students who have used our science kits are more interested in careers in STEM than those who have not. We also found that many teachers were not aware of our science kits. They had either been out sick during the initial training or they had moved to the school after the training. EPI is implementing ongoing teacher training for the science kits to ensure that each teacher knows the resources at their disposal. EPI has also begun hanging science kit posters highlighting the EPI Science Kits available at each school to help teachers know what lessons they can use each kit for.
In 2018, EPI completed two major construction projects. Both schools were in desperate need of new classrooms to support their growing student population. The communities rallied together to build what they could—mud-wall classrooms. Mud-walled classrooms are built using sturdy wood and dried mud. These classrooms work great when the sun is shining, but when it rains, the classrooms can leak, the mud can begin to slide down the walls weakening the structure. In a country like Ghana where there are multiple rainy seasons this is a serious problem and impediment to student’s learning. Empower Playgrounds partnered with the Roberts Family Foundation to provide Community school 3 with a new 3 classroom block and Nyapenia with a new 2 classroom block.
Sanitation & Clean Water
In 2018, we installed two new, clean water wells (boreholes) at Tum Tum D/A Basic School and Mpaem D/A Basic School. EPI includes water projects because sick children have difficulty focusing in class and even attending school. Now these children have access to clean water steps from their school. EPI also maintains BioFil Toilets that are an innovate toilet system that odorlessly decomposes waste using micro-organisms. Read more about the BioFil Toilets here. EPI is in the business of empowering students in Ghana to access quality education and our sanitation projects are a piece of that access.
Our Ghana Team
The Empower Playgrounds’ team in Ghana, is composed entirely of local Ghanaians who are experts in their fields. This gives our projects the advantage of sustainable in-country support. Isaac Darko-Mensah, Country Director, is an electrical engineer who has innovated many aspects of the charging system on our merry-go-round. Our newest addition Peace Yeri, Education Specialist, speaks 4 different local languages which assists in training communities about our menstrual kit project. Richard Koomson, Program Associate, has deep connections to the school system in Ghana and knows how to navigate working with district offices and headmasters. George Thompson, Projects Director, manages all our school construction and sanitation projects.
Empower Playgrounds runs with a streamlined staff to keep our overhead costs to a minimum. Our US staff is responsible for the accounting, fundraising, marketing, and project management. Our team in Ghana is solely comprised of local Ghanaians. This contributes to the sustainability of our projects and the deep connections with our communities. Our teams work together with the board of directors to make all the amazing things in this report happen.
EPI Board of Directors
Empower Playgrounds expanded our board in 2018 building the board to a total of 7 members. We are excited for the new talent that will contribute and help fulfill the mission of EPI. We credit a lot of what we accomplished in 2018 to our new and more complete board. You will be able to meet and get to know our board better at the upcoming Play for Light event in November of 2019! See details here.
Get Involved 2018
Play for Light Event
This year we celebrated 10 years since the first MGR installation at our annual fundraising event, Play for Light 2018. We honored Ben Markham for his inspiring ideas and energy that have been the life blood of Empower Playgrounds since he founded the project in 2007. Guests were able to sign a lantern that was sent to a student lantern-leader in Ghana! We love being able to connect our donors to the children and projects they are supporting! Join us at our next one in 2019! Find more info here.
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