A self-taught renewable energy engineer and social entrepreneur from the impoverished African nation of Malawi has wowed the world with his homemade windmills and ambitious goal to bring electricity and running water to his village. BBC News recentlyprofiled William Kamkwamba, who performed a sort of technological wizardry with junk and a steely determination.
After Kamkwamba (now 22) was forced to drop out of school at the age of 14 because his family could not afford the annual $80 tuition, he decided to continue his education at the local library. He was particularly intrigued with science and technology, and in the midst of a devastating drought, the image of a windmill in a textbook sparked a vision (as quoted in the BBC article):
"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'."
So he did.
It was like nothing his family or neighbors had ever seen before, he recalled, so they thought he was crazy. But he deflected allegations of insanity by telling them he was "only making something for juju (i.e. magic)."
In a way, the finished product truly was magical. Kamkwamba's first windmill consisted of a spare bicycle turbine, a tractor fan blade, an old shock absorber and blades made from plastic pipes that he flattened over a fire. The 16-foot tall creation worked, generating 12 watts and lighting up his family's mud brick home.
He didn't stop there, though. The young engineer also built a circuit breaker and a light switch, eventually attracting a crowd of villagers who wanted to recharge their mobile phones. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. He eventually upgraded the windmill to 48 volts and built a new windmill capable of pumping enough water to irrigate his family's crops.
Now you can read about Kamkwamba's fascinating journey in a book co-authored by the windmill-maker himself and journalist Bryan Mealer, titled "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind."