02 Oct 2009
The awe-inspiring tale of a Malawian teenager who used his own creative thinking to power his village is being made into a new book. Self-taught techno-wizard William Kamkwamba transformed his village by building electric windmills out of junk. His story heralded by climate change campaigner Al Gore is now the subject of a new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
One of Malawi's worst droughts, in 2002 left William’s family on the brink of starvation. Until then his family had relied on their small corn farm in the central Malawian village of Masitala. When crops failed in the drought William was forced to quit school aged 14 because his family could no longer afford the £50 yearly fees. But William didn’t give up – he improvised. He went to a local library, and with limited English, he started reading books about science. But one day, when he picked up a tattered textbook and saw a picture of a windmill, William’s life changed forever. He put his mind to solving a serious problem of bringing electricity and running water to the village. He started going to the local junkyard and collected parts to build a windmill.
“Many, including my mother, thought I was going crazy,” he told the BBC. "They had never seen a windmill before. “People thought I was smoking marijuana.”"So I told them I was only making something for juju magic.' Then they said: 'Ah, I see.'" He knew if he could bring electricity to his home, his mother's life would be easier, and if the windmill could pump water from the earth, his father wouldn't have to depend on the rain from the skies "I was very interested when I saw the windmill could make electricity and pump water. I thought: 'That could be a defence against hunger. Maybe I should build one for myself'."
Working by paraffin lamp in the evenings after his day’s farm work, William, now 22 years old, knocked together a turbine from spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade and an old shock absorber, and fashioned blades from plastic pipes, flattened by being held over a fire. Soon, his 12-watt turbine was pumping power into his family's mud brick home. Villagers were queuing up to charge their mobile phones.Last night William signed so many copies of his book at the launch party, his arm ached, it said on the book’s website. His story fireballed through after a reporter from Malawi’s daily newspaper, the Daily Times wrote about him in November 2006.
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children
Relevant Countries: Malawi.