William Kamkwamba was born on August 5th, 1987 in a small village in Malawi. He was the only boy among seven children. William attended a small primary school until he was 14, completing the 8th grade. In 2001, harsh famine hit Malawi. William’s family lived in a small community maintained by the sale of crops. In a matter of a few months, the entire livelihood of the village literally dried up. Without crops to sell, there was no money to continue paying William’s yearly tuition of $80. William was forced to drop out of school at the age of 14.
William was determined to continue learning. He would walk a few miles to a community library in a nearby village and borrow whatever book he could. On one occasion he found a book called “Using Energy”. The cover of the book depicted large wind turbines. In the book he read about how windmills could be used to generate electricity. The village where he lived had no electricity and kerosene lamps were used for lighting the home in the evening. William decided that he would find a way to build a windmill and generate electricity for his family’s home.
The problem was that he had very few resources with which to build anything like a windmill. So he started digging around in trash heaps and waste dumps, looking for anything he could use. The people in his village thought he had gone crazy. His family told him he was crazy. He was the laughingstock of the village. People would see him digging through the trash, collecting junk day after day.
After a lot of trial and error, William Kamkwamba finished his windmill. It was fifteen feet high and was made of a broken bicycle, a tractor fan blade, an old shock absorber, and blue gum trees. To look at it you would think it was just a pile of junk on top of a wooden framework. But when the wind picked up, the gum tree blades began to turn, and something amazing happened. That small light bulb William had attached to the wiring slowly flickered to life and shone. William’s family, friends and neighbors stood and stared in disbelief.
From that moment, there was no stopping William Kamkwamba. He next figured out he could use an old car battery to store the energy and use it to power lights at night. He next extended the windmill to over thirty feet in order to better catch the wind above the trees. He developed a system in his home with light switches and circuit breakers made from nails, wire, and magnets. He used parts from broken cassette players to make a radio, which provides music to his home. People from nearby villages would line up at his door begging him to charge their cell phone batteries.
Today his family compound is equipped with an additional windmill that pumps water to irrigate their fields. He has converted his radio into a transmitter, which is used to broadcast music and messages about HIV prevention to the surrounding villages. Subsequent projects have included clean water, malaria prevention, solar power and lighting for the six homes in his family compound; a deep water well with a solar powered pump for clean water, and a drip irrigation system.
William’s story spread and before long he had drawn the attention of the local and international press. Today he lectures all over the world, sharing his story in an attempt to inspire others to realize their dreams. He is also a member of the inaugural class of the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. His goal is to make a difference in the lives of all Africans.
William Kamkwamba is an inspiration to millions of people in Africa and around the world. He is an excellent example of what can be accomplished by a vision followed by hard work and determination. All of us should endeavor to be like “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”.
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