Windmills

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by the CTL’s Laurie Hansen.]

Masitala Village, Malawi, Africa. 14 year old William Kamkwamba “had never heard of Google, never slept on a mattress and never had enough food when he was hungry.” Before an audience of “disbelievers who had scoffed at him for behaving strangely, William lashed his machine to the top of a 16-foot tower made from blue gum tree branches. As the blades began turning in the breeze, a car light bulb in William’s hand started to glow.” Behold an inventor, an African Dynamo.

How did he accomplish such an amazing feat? William borrowed a McGraw-Hill book entitled Using Energy, from a small library in his candlelit Masitala Village. Following diagrams in the book, William constructed a windmill from gum tree branches, an old bicycle and odds-and-ends he found in the trash. Now 22, William has been recognized. He wrote a book about his experience, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and he spoke at two TED Talks in Tanzania and Oxford respectively. If I may echo Gary Stone from KNWZ Radio, “This is a story that should be shouted from the rooftops!”

If you do not have time to click on all the links provided in this article, I recommend these two 6 minute TED Talks, in the following sequence:

  1. William on TED Tanzania 2007
  2. William on TED Oxford 2009

William’s windmill has inspired the Moving Windmills documentary which in turn inspired the Moving Windmills Project. Partnered with Build On, a school-improvement plan has begun and “Community members will break ground in March, 2010 after the rainy season ends, with the first building projected to be completed by June, 2010…”

As the windmill project boasts: “Imagination can change a family, a village, a nation.”

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