Story of ingenuity in poverty

Story of ingenuity in poverty

27 March, 2013
Windmill brings hope
A self taught 14-year old engineers a windmill
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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer is an amazing story of a childhood in poverty in Malawi, and what a determined individual can do. William Kamkwamba was just 14 years old when he built a windmill to generate power and pump water for his family. He built this windmill with no plans. He figured out how to build it himself, with a few basic science textbooks, and experimenting as he went. The physical structure was made of a gathering of scrounged and re-engineered items such as bamboo, PVC piping, old tractor parts and a bicycle dynamo.
 
The story immerses us in William’s childhood in Malawi. We follow William through his adventures of building toys, playing with friends and an extreme respect for and fear of magic. Readers may begin to draw parallels to their own childhood in his adventures. However, we are shocked back into his reality of the third world, as William tells us of daily life of fear, hunger and desperation during a famine. Food comes before schooling in family budgeting and William is forced to drop out of school, and instead forages for information at a small library. There he finds science text books, which spur his experiments and leads him to build his own windmill.
 
A windmill is often seen as an icon of green energy these days. However, it is very clear that the motivation of this remarkable young man to build a windmill is having a steady supply of food for his family, not saving the planet. The book is a great reminder of what the concept of sustainable development encompasses; development that aims for equality in access to basic human needs now, as well as concerning future generations.
 
This story is not a typical memoir, looking back through decades and telling you how the world was. This is very much a current and still unfolding tale. In the edition reviewed here, published in 2010, there is a fantastic “P.S.” section at the back updating the reader on William and the people of his village. By introducing us to his family and neighbours, William Kamkwamba shrinks the gap between the reader and the reality of subsistence living. This book puts in real terms the potential impact that technology and access to education can have on individuals, families and ultimately the world.
 
To read more about William Kamkwamba visit his blog:
http://williamkamkwamba.typepad.com/williamkamkwamba/

By: Carley Lauder
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