If so, you’ll especially enjoy today’s story about William Kamkwamba a 20-year-old African man living in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest nations. He dreams of using windmills to bring vast electrical power to his country.
When he first proposed his idea, everyone thought it was impossible and many of them laughed. And why wouldn’t they? No-one else in Malawi had ever accomplished such a thing and William had little money or education. But he began anyway.
He’s now built three windmills on his family’s property and a lot more windmill power is coming. No-one is laughing any more.
William’s tallest windmill is 39-feet high, and its turbine is made out of old bicycle parts attached to tree trunks tied together. Its windmill blades are flattened plastic pieces and yet to everyone’s surprise, it harnesses the wind, powering his family’s new TV set, new radio and new light bulbs.
“At first, we were laughing at him,” said his mother Agnes Kamkwamba speaking for the family and for the 60-family village. “We thought he was doing something useless.”
They stopped laughing when William attached a car battery, a thin copper wire and his windmill and lit each room in their home. They no longer needed candles. And as the power source grew, they added a radio and then a TV as they began to enjoy some of the trappings of modern life.
Now visitors come from all over the country to see William’s windmills for themselves.
William is self-taught, having gotten the idea after seeing a photo of a windmill harnessing energy in an old library book. He’s built another windmill that powers the local grade school and he plans to design a windmill system powerful enough to provide lighting and pump water to his village.
What motivated him to proceed? “I was thinking about what I’d like to have at home, and I was thinking, ‘What can I do?’ “
This was six years ago when William had been forced to drop out of school because his family didn’t have the money to pay the $80 annual tuition. He worked with his family as a subsistence farmer helping them to raise soybeans and groundnuts, but he kept up his reading.
With the electrical lighting, two of William’s six sisters can now stay up late doing homework and become better educated. So could many other students if electricity was available to them.
William is expanding his family’s power source by adding a purchased windmill with solar panels and he’s going to add a purchased windmill to a house in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, where he now goes to school. His schooling is paid for by an investor group who want him to build windmill power nationwide.
So William is privileged to attend the international academy operated primarily for the children of visiting missionaries and aid workers. Because Lilongwe is 70-miles from his home, he taught his family how to take care of the home windmills and how to make repairs.
Whether William and his financial backers succeed in using windmills and solar power to electrify Malawi is open to question. But what is not questionable is the effort he is making despite the lack of knowledge and resources he has had to overcome.
That William has advanced this far is a testimony to his determination and to the human spirit.
Originally Published on September 02, 2008