Photo of William Kamkwamba's wind turbine by
Tom Reilly. licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
William Kamkwamba grew up in a village in Malawi, in southeast
Africa. He could not attend school because his parents couldn't afford
the tuition of $80 per year. From time to time, he sneaked into
classes to learn math and English, but it wasn't long until the
teachers discovered his presence and kicked him out.
Undaunted by poverty or the famines that affected his country,
William taught himself by studying the books in the library of an
elementary school in his village. In 2002, when he was 14 years old,
he went to the library to find out what the English word "grapes"
meant and he stumbled across a science book for elementary school
students called Using Energy. William says that finding this
book was the trigger that changed the course of his life.
He had a difficult time reading the book, but he pored over
its diagrams for motors and generators, and eventually came up with
the idea of building an electricity-generating wind turbine. His
village did not have electricity (in fact, only 2% of Malawi receives
electricity service, and that service is very spotty), and he dreamed
of being able to read at night in his house.
William went about collecting the parts for a wind turbine from
trash heaps and junkyards. He used old plastic pipes, a broken
bicycle, a tractor fan, sticks, and bits of wire. He soldered the
electrical components together using a piece of wire heated in a fire,
and used a bent bicycle spoke as a wrench adapter.
William lashed his generator to a 16-foot tower made from tree
branches. His fellow villagers thought his efforts were foolish, and
they teased him. But when the blades of the turbine began to spin, and
the small light bulb that he had connected to the output wires began
to glow brightly, they stopped scoffing. William soon installed four
light bulbs and two radios in his house, and built a circuit breaker
to keep his house's thatch roof from catching fire.
As William continued to refine his home power system, he was
discovered by journalists visiting the village. The news whipped
around Africa and through the rest of the world, and he became known
as "the boy who you harnessed the wind." He went on an international
speaking tour, and at the age of 19 enrolled in a university in South
Today, the lasting impact of Williams work can already be felt. He
is committed to improving the lives of his fellow Africans through the
innovative use of sustainable technology, and is leading a project to
rebuild his primary school
in Malawi. You can read about it here.
Watch a short
documentary about William Kamkwamba.
Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
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