William Kamkwamba: The boy who harnessed the wind

 

Photo of William Kamkwamba with windmill in the back

Before November 2006, William Kamkwamba was just an ordinary Malawian village boy. He knew nothing about Google, blogs, TED talks, the Daily Show, travelling by plane and having a well-planned future. Today, William knows all this like the back of his hand, and much more. He is a Dartmouth College graduate, an author, a motivational speaker and a real asset to his community.

What magic brought him to this place? Invention. What qualities enabled him to build a windmill from pieces  of wood, a broken bicycle and a myriad of other unwanted objects? A dose of madness, huge amounts of courage, the right measure of perseverance and unlimited patience. It also took the goodwill of onlookers, journalists and bloggers in Malawi and elsewhere to bring William’s story to the world. Above all, it was the belief in his creation, shared by many others, that saved William and his Masitala village from certain misery and destruction.

A series of unfortunate events brought about this transformation. It all started with a severe drought in 2001 that brought William’s education to a standstill. That year’s famine not only claimed many lives, but also left the surviving families struggling for basic amenities.  In this context, school fees became a luxury. William dropped out of school at the age of 14 but falling into despair was out of question.

The teenager turned to books to kill boredom and keep out of trouble. It was during one of his forays into a local library in his Kasungu district that he discovered Using Energy, an American science textbook that described windmills. That book would change William Kamkwamba’s life.

After months of research, experiments and embarrassing trips to the scrapyard where he collected most of his building materials, William’s first makeshift windmill came into being. It could light four bulbs in his home and charge mobile phones, much to the wonder and disbelief of the people who originally thought that he was crazy. Later on, two more windmills would be built to provide more electricity that would light the village and power a water pump used for irrigational purposes.

November 2007 saw William attend his first TED conference in Arusha, Tanzania, where some participants noticed his potential and decided to sponsor his studies. The African Bible College in Malawi was one of the first steps that the education-starved boy took towards increasing his knowledge. The African Leadership Academy in South Africa soon followed thanks to another scholarship. William would finally end up at Dartmouth College in the United States of America in 2010.

Four years later, William obtained his engineering degree and made a pledge to continue helping his community and country through the Moving Windmills Project foundation.

William Kamkwamba continues to inspire many people around the world as evidenced by his Twitter account. His improbable windmill harnessed the wind and freed our imagination, allowing us to dream and believe that creativity is the key to transformational change.

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