William Kamkwamba is only 22 as I write this. Born in Malawi, Africa, in 1987, he was one of seven children (he was the only boy) and lived in a house without electricity and with water from the local well. His father raised maize and tobacco, they were church-going Presbyterians, and the

TINY MALAWI

TINY MALAWI

children made their own playthings from whatever they could find in the village. Because he lived in “modern” times, some of their playthings were broken down radios.

William was a questioning child and he wondered how the radio took the sound out of the air and made it audible. He took radios apart, studied them, and soon he was able to fix other people’s radios.  Another thing that intrigued him was a bicycle he saw which had a headlight powered by pedaling the bike. How did that work?

William  was fortunate enough to live near a scrapyard where he could find “machine parts and stripped bodies of cars and tractors.” He learned about batteries from discarded radios and cassette players. There was a library with a pitiful selection of books which he couldn’t read but he pondered the diagrams and learned about electrical wiring.

This year William Kamkwamba, with the help of Bryan Mealer, has written a book (The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind) about how he, at the age of 14, built a windmill from scraps and findings  that brought electricity into his house.

He started secondary school but was unable to continue because he couldn’t pay the fees and didn’t have the proper uniform. One year the crops failed and their food supply in Malawi dwindled as they gradually cut down to one meal a day,  that meal  only a few mouthfuls. He watched his family and neighbors turn grey and gaunt. There was barely any food for Christmas, 2001. Cholera followed the famine. Finally, the spring planting thrived and then waiting, waiting, waiting for the first ears of maize to be ready. At last — a feast on corn!

Such want and suffering in the third millenium, A.D.!    Such a triumph of the human spirit!

William was considered crazy as he struggled to achieve his dream. Eventually he received some publicity and was invited to tell about his windmill at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference in Arusha where scientists, inventors, and innovators share their big ideas. On this trip he flew on his first plane, stayed in his first hotel, met his first computer, met the internet and Google! When he googled ‘windmills’ he came up with 5 million hits. Where was Google when he needed it?

This is that first talk.

Great book!

And here is William’s blog.