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William Kamkwamba – The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

October 16th, 2009 · 2 Comments

William Kamkwamba a 14-year old out of school youth in Malawi in Africa when he built his first windmill out of scrap material and zero technical training

William Kamkwamba's Windmill

I came across the inspiring story of William Kamkwamba, African inventor and co-author of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, a few days ago on Twitter. Since then, I couldn’t stop thinking about the difficulties and disadvantages this man faced trying to put his idea into reality in his village in Malawi, Africa.

You see, at age 14, out of school because of poverty in a war-torn and famine-stricken country, William set out to do what his fellow villagers looked upon as sheer madness. He wanted to do what has never been done in his country before – build a windmill to energize their little corn farm – to prevent his family from starving.

In a country where Math is said to be taught with bottle caps (“one Coca Cola plus three Carlsberg equals…”) with very little natural resources, William Kamkwamba’s project was deemed a failure by the other villagers – before it even started. But William had a couple of things going for him – an insatiable curiosity and an iron will to succeed.

When he was forced to drop out of school because his parents could no longer pay for it, William spent most of his time reading books – on electronics and circuitry – in a small library built with U.S. assistance. The choice of books and subjects was no accident – he couldn’t read very well in English, so he chose books with plenty of diagrams and illustrations he can easily understand.

After three months, William Kamkwamba succeeded in completing his prototype windmill. His skeptical fellow villagers became convinced finally, when he was able to provide power to the radio and irrigate their farm. Soon after, people from all over started visiting the village, taking pictures of the unusual structure in his front yard, and a journalist wrote about his outstanding initiative. He was then invited to appear in various scientific, environmental, and media forums in Europe and the United States and tell his story.

Watch: The William Kamkwamba Story

I was thinking about 14 year-old Wiliam’s story as I was looking at my 14 year-old daughter’s profile on Facebook. Most of us are so exposed to the deluge of information on the internet, we often take this virtual overload for granted, but rarely do we come up with something truly remarkable, like what this young man achieved.

Of course, not everyone has a streak of genius and I’m sure there are astounding achievements by our young people out there, waiting to be publicized. That is only to be expected, given the amount of information and materials available to us. This man practically had nothing to begin with, that’s what make his feat so remarkable and our lack of curiosity and initiative so deplorable.

Finally, it’s obvious that those people who work tirelessly to help improve education in the developing countries, are on the right track. There’s talent and ingenuity, even genius, in those dusty villages, hungry for more information. A good technical or literary book or a laptop might just do the trick to make those smart kids dream of what is possible, like William Kamkwamba did.

Watch: William Kamkwamba on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

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William Kamkwamba
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Photo: William Kamkwamba on Flickr

Tags: Environment

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dave Dugdale // Nov 18, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Wow, I am not sure you would catch me climbing up the windmill structure in the picture above.

  • 2 Michael // Nov 19, 2009 at 4:11 am

    @Dave Dugdale, I probably wouldn’t be caught in one, too. But, if it’s a matter of survival for the family and proving a point we strongly believe in, like in William Kamkwamba’s situation, I’m sure we’ll both be at the top of that rickety structure. 🙂