William Kamkwamba is an innovator in the Museum of Science and Industry’s Fast Forward Exhibit. William saw the exhibit which features him for the first time on Tuesday January 6th, 2009.
I talked to William as he was seeing the Fast Forward exhibit and himself as one of the innovators for the first time. As he watched the video of him in his village in Malawi (he pointed out his mother and father to me), examined the blades that he used for his first windmill (which are on display), his eyes just lit up.
William told me he had to drop out of school because his parents could not afford the minimal fee required for him to attend. He, however, decided to continue his learning on his own, and checked out as many books as possible from his school’s library. One of these books was on how to build a windmill to generate electricity.
Having no formal education or training, William engineered and built his first windmill to power 4 light bulbs and 2 radios in his house. I asked William to explain how his windmill worked to me, and this really got him talking. William has a passion for science and engineering, and I quickly realized that it was science and engineering that he liked talking about best. Not the United States, not Malawi, not his upcoming book or movie deal, but how things work is what fascinates William and makes him tick.
It boggles my mind what William was able to do with just a library book and a junkyard. William explained to me that his 12 meter windmill in Malawi is made out of wood, plastic pipes, and discarded bicycle parts. He told me that he did not know if his windmill would actually work, and a lot of his family and friends thought that he was absolutely crazy when he was building it. However, when the wind began to turn the rotor blades and the improvised windmill started to generate enough electricity to power the light bulbs and the radios, everyone realized that William had managed to create something they had never dreamed was possible.
Most of the time I take things for granted, I just bought a cell phone (not an iphone, but a cell phone), and I have no understanding of how it, or anything else gets to me. And really, I did not even think about it until I met William. Next time you answer your cell phone or use your computer, think about how it works – William did just that, and created a windmill with only library book in hand.
William’s story does not end with his windmill…he was invited to speak at the prestigious TED Global Conference. From there, he was introduced to computers, the internet, google, and the blog (he even has his own blog, in which he writes about his now diverse experiences). He also explained to me his upcoming design for a windmill to pump water and irrigate his family’s fields in their village in Malawi. William is now studying to become an electrical engineer he’s taking 10 courses as he has to make up for the lost time he was not able to attend school. He told me he really likes math and physics (no surprise there), and that he hopes to attend college somewhere in the United States.
William is an innovator, entrepreneur, engineer, and creator…he is on his way to fulfilling his dream (and believe you me it doesn’t stop at windmills). As I was leaving, William told me that “I could do anything I set my mind to”.
Watch out for William and his energy in the years ahead (I know I will). If William can do it, I can do it, and so can you. What are your plans…I am still thinking about mine."