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Arseny Antonov
Arseny Antonov

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Publisher's Synopsis: When fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba's Malawi village was hit by a drought, everyone's crops began to fail. Without enough money for food, let alone school, William spent his days in the library . . . and figured out how to bring electricity to his village. Persevering against the odds, William built a functioning windmill out of junkyard scraps, and thus became the local hero who harnessed the wind. Lyrically told and gloriously illustrated, this story will inspire many as it shows how - even in the worst of times - a great idea and a lot of hard work can still rock the world.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the immensely engaging and inspiring true account of an enterprising African teenager who constructed a windmill from scraps to create electricity for his entire community.

William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger, and a place where hope and opportunity were hard to find. But William had read about windmills in a book called Using Energy, and he dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village and change his life and the lives of those around him. His neighbors may have mocked him and called him misala—crazy—but William was determined to show them what a little grit and ingenuity could do.Enchanted by the workings of electricity as a boy, William had a goal to study science in Malawi's top boarding schools. But in 2002, his country was stricken with a famine that left his family's farm devastated and his parents destitute. Unable to pay the eighty-dollar-a-year tuition for his education, William was forced to drop out and help his family forage for food as thousands across the country starved and died.Yet William refused to let go of his dreams. With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach, a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks, and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to bring his family a set of luxuries that only two percent of Malawians could afford and what the West considers a necessity—electricity and running water. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, William forged a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption and small miracle that eventually powered four lights, complete with homemade switches and a circuit breaker made from nails and wire. A second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine that loomed with every season.Soon, news of William's magetsi a mphepo—his "electric wind"—spread beyond the borders of his home, and the boy who was once called crazy became an inspiration to those around the world.Here is the remarkable story about human inventiveness and its power to overcome crippling adversity. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual's ability to change his community and better the lives of those around him.

  • Moving Windmills ProjectInspired by William Kamkwamba's story, the Moving Windmills Project was founded in 2008 to support rural economic development and education projects in Malawi. The nonprofit group works with local leaders to provide food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, health, education and community-building. Completed projects include:wind and solar power for village homes

  • re-roofing village homes

  • protection from rain and fire

  • water sanitation and hygiene education

  • disease prevention

  • anti-malarial bed-net distribution

  • bedding distribution

  • warmth and pest protection

  • a water well and solar-powered water pump

  • drip irrigation

  • improved food supply with multiple maize crops and vegetable gardens

  • running water taps ...

Inspired by a science book, 13-year-old William Kamkwamba built a wind turbine entirely via DIY methods to save his Malawian village from famine. His memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind debuted in 2010, becoming a New York Times and global bestseller. Kamkwamba attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 2014 with a degree in environmental studies and engineering. Last year, Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) made his directorial debut skillfully bringing William's inspiring story to cinematic life. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the founding of Dartmouth's Environmental Studies Program, this irresistible family film soars with an urgent human-interest dimension at its heart.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the story of how a boy built a windmill out of bicycle parts, PVC pipe, Carlsberg bottle caps, and gum-tree poles. How he drilled holes through the PVC using a hot nail embedded in a corncob, taught himself physics and electronics, and eventually became a TEDx scholar and participant in the global clean energy transition. It is, ultimately, a coming of age story about project-based learning, sense of place, science, and self-discovery.

Donations will also help ongoing projects such as our School Solarization Initiative. If you or your company can offer larger support, please contact Olivia Scott Kamkwamba directly,

Back in 2007 when this blog was young, I wrote about William Kamkwamba and his DIY wind turbine as an example of appropriate technology. Since then the story has been published as a biography, and then turned into a rather good movie directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

William does have access to a small library though, and in it he finds a book on using energy, with a picture of wind turbines on the front. He immediately grasps the potential for such a machine, and starts to work out how to build one. The book is in English, so he has to start by learning enough of the language to understand what it is describing, looking up the words in a dictionary.

The Boy who Harnessed the WindThe film is based on the true story of a Malawian boy named William Kamkwamba from the Kasungu region who witnesses a terrible drought in 2001. Driven by desperation William starts searching in books for a solution until he comes across the picture of a windmill. Since he lacks resources, he goes to the nearby garbage dump and uses a tractor fan, shock absorber, bicycle frame, and PVC pipe to build a windmill that generates enough energy to pump water from the ground for his family's cornfields.

Why is this windmill a Frugal Innovation?William's innovation could be considered frugal for several reasons. Firstly, in the innovation process, the boy fused pre-existing global knowledge, namely how it can be used to generate energy, with his implicit knowledge of local circumstances in Kasungu. Secondly, the outcome is frugal, due to the contextualized modification of the windmill as it was originally geographically used and build in the Global North. William reduced the technology and concept to the essentials and, thus created a low-tech product which is cheaper, easier to operate, and more resource-efficient. Furthermore, William adapted the innovation to the specific cultural and social context rather than adopting the local conditions so that they fit the innovation. After the windmill became accessible to Williams home village, he created a whole new market for the innovation which became accessible to many other low-income countries and regions. Today, November 2021, William Kamkwamba is working on the further dissemination of the innovation in projects such as the Moving Windmill Project and IDEO (2021).

To sum up, I believe that in this process of innovative adaptation 'good enough is sometimes better'. William Kamkwamba took a complex, expensive innovation, the windmill, and developed a cheaper, frugal version. He turned old into new, transformed complexity into simplicity, and made the impossible possible by creating something valuable out of trash. As William states: 'Where the world sees trash, Africa recylces. Where the world sees junk, Africa sees rebirth'. (BRON)

When the famine finally subsides, Kamkwamba, armed with American physics textbooks, starts construction on the windmill. His perseverance in creating this structure is coupled with altruism. Aiming to use the power of the windmill to pump water to the crops, he hopes to free his family from enslavement to the whims of weather.

With his quietly assured directorial debut, Nigerian-born British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor announces himself as a sensitive, shrewdly restrained filmmaker. Based on the memoir of the same name by Malawian innovator William Kamkwamba (co-written by journalist Bryan Mealer), The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind tells the remarkable story of how, as a largely self-taught techno-wizard, William (played by Maxwell Simba) saved his village from famine by building a wind turbine from scrap metal and bike parts.

William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger. But William had read about windmills, and he dreamed of building one that would bring to his small village a set of luxuries that only 2 percent of Malawians could enjoy: electricity and running water.

In the film, William is kicked out of school because his family can no longer afford the cost. He begins sneaking into the library where he learns how to build a windmill in hope of bringing water to his village, and eventually saving them from the drought and political riots taking place against the government.

At the end of the film, it explains what happened to William and his family. William is granted a scholarship to continue his education and eventually graduates from Dartmouth College in America. His windmill went viral and led William to give a TED talk on his story. William continuously sends money and brings more engineering back to his village where his family still lives and his sister is married to a professor with children. 041b061a72


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