The Architecture of Invention
from Plan Magazine.
What would you do if your house were lit by just one paraffin lamp? If you live in Ireland, you could
pay off your electricity bill. Or perhaps you could
buy every candle from the local hardware store.
Failing that, maybe you could simply live in
perpetual darkness. But what if you lived in Africa?
Hmm, now that’s a little harder, isn’t it? How
about designing a giant windmill from scratch?
That’s what teenager William Kamkwamba did –
and his invention is quickly making him famous.
The youngster, hailing from Mastala Village in the
Kasungu district of Malawi, began making
windmills when he left school at 14 because he
couldn’t afford the fees.
He started with a five-metre structure, which
he fashioned from plastic piping, his father’s
bicycle and chunks of wood. Referencing a basic
design outlined in a schoolbook he had borrowed,
the inventive teen would heat pieces of cut-up
plastic piping and then fashion them into propeller
blades. The handmade electricity generator was
enough to power one light bulb in his family
home. But he wanted more. Reaching for the
skies, he decided to construct a 12-metre version.
This towering structure soars above the village and
creates enough electricity to power four bulbs and
two radios. The world found out about his
achievement after he was invited to a Technology,
Entertainment and Design global conference in
Tanzania. There, he used the Internet for the first
time and set up a blog showcasing his handiwork
and since then, his name has generated tens of
thousands of hits. “Our family is poor like many
families in Malawi and Africa, and as a result, we
A Malawian teenager has designed an elegant 12-metre windmill
from a bike, a pipe and bits of wood
have no electricity in our village or my home. I
decided to try to get as much education as
possible by reading as many books as I could
find, ”he says on the blog. “An organization called
the Malawian Teacher Training Activity (MTTA)
contributed a large quantity of books to the
primary school library near my home. I read
many of them. One of the books I read was
called Using Energy, a primary school textbook
about how energy is made. Inside the book there
were plans for a windmill. I decided to build a
windmill to provide power for my family, ”he
explains. But the plans didn’t make the job a walk
in the park: “When I was making [the windmill],
all these people were mocking me that I was
going mad but I had confidence in what I was
doing because I knew if it was written in the
books then it was true and possible, ”he says.
Since the 12-metrewindmill has gone up,
William has replaced broken plastic blades with
metal ones. To make these, the enthusiastic
innovator “took an old oil drum to the tinsmith
at the trading center and asked him to help me
cut it into new blades”. William’s neighbors now
have their batteries charged at the windmill and
he is further upgrading the structure using a
treadmill motor. Donations made on his site have
helped William get back to school.
Donations have flooded in from North
America, Europe, Asia and Australia. William lists
the first names and last initials of donors and
their cities in a blog post. He adds that he is
“very grateful” to all who have contributed.
“These funds will also pay for the enhanced
lighting and power in my home as documented
on the blog. I’m working on a project right now
to benefit my extended family, many of whom
live in the five homes in my immediate
neighborhood. I am eager to tell you about it, but
want to wait until it is finished first.”
“Due to your generosity, I have received many donations so far,
which I shall apply to the projects that I am doing to improve
the life of my family”