Freeplay designers expected the radio to be used primarily by women and children, so they sculpted a slim handle with that in mind. The crank action also needed to be firm enough to generate energy but easy enough for a child to wind. "Many women and children in Africa live under traumatized circumstances," Hutchinson says, adding that aid workers sometimes encounter households headed by children, because their parents have died from AIDS or political violence.
"When the original, spring-based Lifelines were distributed to orphans in the sub-Saharan nation of Rwanda, nearly all of these children began using the radios to listen to the news," says Pearson, who was born in the U.S. but has lived in South Africa for the past 20 years. "They wanted to know what was happening at their borders, and radio was the voice of authority for them." Radio also has the power to assist in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, abuse and unwanted pregnancy, she adds. Pearson is hoping to initiate by next year a program of using radio and other means of communication to teach Africans in remote regions about financial matters.
In addition to radios, Freeplay also distributes light balls that residents in Rwanda and Zambia can buy or rent to deliver illumination regardless of a region's ability to produce electricity, Pearson says, noting that only about 10 percent of sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity. The balls are recharged using Freeplay's portable Weza generator.
Freeplay is also designing light-emitting diode (LED) lanterns powered by a winding handle that will be available as early as next month in India. The foundation hopes to eventually distribute the lanterns throughout Africa as a replacement for kerosene lamps. Each light tower–shaped lantern has four LEDs for 360-degree lighting, plus a fifth LED that shines down and can be used as a reading light. Once Freeplay observes how the lanterns are used in India, it will tailor them to meet the needs of African residents, who are more likely to use them in rural huts or in refugee camps.