Any successful effort is often the result of many people working together in a perfect symphony to accomplish amazing things. For Viridian and our Ghana journey, it was the efforts of our partners that made the vision a reality. A lot of behind-the-scenes work took place to help it all come together seamlessly.
“We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have found the perfect partners for this project,” said Cami Boehme, SVP of Sustainability at Viridian. “It was critical to us to choose a location, a project and partners to work with that would ensure our work in Ghana would have meaningful and lasting impact.”
Those partners are three companies with an amazing synergy—World Joy, Goal Zero and Empower Playgrounds—who together with Viridian created the team that came together in Ghana for this project.
It started with World Joy (www.worldjoyghana.org), a Utah-based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the people of Ghana “one village at a time.” Founded in 2005, World Joy focuses specifically on families living within a rural 13-village area of Ghana’s Attiwa district, in the eastern region. The group focuses on education, a strong need identified by the Ghanaian government. As such, within the first three years of its founding, World Joy helped build a number of schools in the region, to better improve the quality of life among the people living there. But what was missing—and sorely needed—was a cheap and renewable form of electricity.
The lives of the Ghanaians Viridian visited are much like the early American pioneers; their day began at sunrise and ended at sundown. If they had some form of light besides the kerosene lanterns they used, the impact would be immediate and far-reaching among the entire community. As the region is on the Equator, solar power was the logical choice.
World Joy was instrumental in the planning and execution of the project. Having personally been to the area multiple times and fostering a deep and respectful relationship with the local Ghanaians, Ike Ferguson, chair of World Joy, helped conceptualize how Viridian could bring power to this region.
Ike reached out to his own connections to find Empower Playgrounds and then Goal Zero to provide the technical aspects of the project. Goal Zero is a manufacturer of portable solar-power-collecting devices. (The company’s full line of products can be found at goalzero.com) Empower Playgrounds is a manufacturer of electricity-generating playground equipment. (Full company background is available at www.empowerplaygrounds.org)
Utilizing Goal Zero’s products and technology, the trip participants were able to install portable solar panels on the roof of both the library Viridian put together for them, and the rural health clinic in the village of Asunafo. Through those efforts, the townspeople were assured of an ongoing supply of much-needed lighting, plus power to run the clinic’s refrigerator to keep medicines from spoiling in the tropical heat. Goal Zero’s technology was also utilized in the power-generating, people-powered merry-go-rounds the Viridian team installed for the village’s children.
Goal Zero had worked with Empower Playgrounds and its founder, Ben Markham before, creating another perfect synergy.
Markham, an engineer, had volunteered for missionary service in Ghana in 2004 after he retired from 32 years of service at ExxonMobil. Upon spending time in the African nation with his wife, the pair wondered how local students were able to learn anything at all in schools that were often without power and had no playground equipment.
Utilizing his engineering background, Markham came up with a concept that is deceptively simple: Children playing on a people-powered merry-go-round keep it spinning, getting a ride and generating electricity at the same time. That electricity is then used to charge up a number of portable lanterns that the kids can take back to their huts at night, so they have light by which they can study.
“It wasn’t that easy to develop, but working with Brigham Young University engineering students, a viable prototype was produced,” Markham said. After some field-testing and fine-tuning, Empower Playgrounds was born. Now, through a partnership with Playworld Systems in Lewisburg, PA, students of rural schools in Africa can get state-of-the-art playground equipment that literally lights up their lives.
“Ike and Ben shipped everything to Ghana well in advance and visited to conduct feasibility tests before our group arrived. When we arrived, each project was ready for an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, which made for very efficient and meaningful work.” Boehme said. “It was a perfect example of people and companies working in partnership toward a common goal, and we couldn’t be more pleased.”
The nonprofit Empower Playgrounds now has more than 32 units in use in Ghana.
“Viridian was responsible for our 29th and 30th merry-go-round installations,” Markham said. “We also have 10 more units in a container in Baltimore, ready to ship. There are now more than 5,000 kids that will have light tonight in Ghana who otherwise wouldn’t have had it.”
By any measure, Viridian’s work in Ghana was an unbridled success. The company and its partners teamed up to bring power to those who had none, and hopes for a brighter future along with it.