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Posted byKevin Anderson

Thursday 23 July 200911.12 BST

TEDGlobal: Building a windmill in Africa from scrap

William Kamkwamba of Malawi didn't let famine stop his goal of getting an education, and using scrap, he built windmills to bring irrigation and power to his villag

'Windmill' William Kamkwamba speaking at TEDGlobal 2009 in Oxford'Windmill' William Kamkwamba speaking at TEDGlobal 2009 in Oxford photo credit: TED / Duncan Davidson

Four years ago, when I came to the first TEDGlobal in Oxford, it didn't feel all that global. There were lots of Americans, quite a few Brits and a sprinkling of Europeans. This TEDGlobal feels much more internationally representative, and one of the positive additions has been their fellows programme, which has expanded representation from Africa, south Asia and Latin America.

Thursday started off with a presentation by one of the fellows, William Kamkwamba from Malawi. Unlike many of the entrepreneurs, scientists, technologists and business people at the conference, Kamkwamba grew up as a poor farmer, growing maize. In 2001, crop failures set off a horrible famine, and his family ate only one meal a day.

We d
ropped away to nothing.

The hunger forced him to drop out of school in 2002, but he said: "It was a future I couldn't accept. I intended to do anything possible to get an education." He went to a local library and began to read books, especially ones about physics. One of the books he read explained how windmills could be used to generate electricity and pump water.

At only 14, he decided to build a windmill himself, but he lacked the materials. At the local scarp yard, he found a tractor fan, a shock absorber, a bicycle frame and some PVC pipe. He melted the pipe to create blades for the windmill. His first windmill powered only one light, but building on that success, he build another larger windmill that powered four lights.

He built another windmill to pump water for irrigation, and soon people were queuing up at his house to charge their mobile phones.

Local journalists found out about this windmill, and soon Hacktivate blogger Mike McKay wrote about him. Word spread around the world, and that landed him an invitation to TED. He had never flown in an airplane, used the internet or slept in an hotel before going to the conference, and nerves got the best of him. "I lost my English."

But at this TED, he wanted to pass along a message to his fellow Africans and the poor who are struggling with their dreams.

Trust in yourself and believe. Never give up.

Africans, like Kamkwamba, are solving their own problems. To read more, check out the blog Afrigadget, which covers stories like this everyday.