Monday, October 26, 2009

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

This book describes a young man's efforts to build a windmill to generate electricity for his family after a drought and the resultant famine brought the tenuousness of their existance painfully to the fore. Growing up in Malawi, William's life consisted of subsistence farming, trying to get good enough grades to pass exams that would let him further his education, hunting for birds, and tearing apart radios so he could learn to repair them. When he could no longer attend school for lack of tuition money, he spent his time at a local library devouring every book on applied science and electricity they had. By observing pedal powered bicycle lights, and with access to a scrapyard, he experimented with bits and pieces of junk until he finally had a working windmill that powered a single car headlight lamp. That later led to a homemade switch, a circuit breaker, a mobile phone charging station, and a chance at a higher education through the efforts of professors, bloggers, and technological innovators from the United States and elsewhere.

This true story makes me truly grateful for what I have. William's ingenuity in recycling what I would normally think of as useless junk reminds me of the universal attribute that true survivors have to adapt to incredible adversity. An inspiring story that our young people need to read. The poverty in Malawi provides a stark contrast to American wealth; even those in America who consider themselves poor would have to reassess that perception. The environment that William grew up in makes his achievements that much more astounding.

Parents could use this story to discuss the importance of education, the value of hard work, the necessity of environmental balance, the riskiness of subsistence farming to factors such as weather/political subsidies, and persistence in the face of overwhelming odds.

You can purchase The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind at Amazon.

You can learn more about William's efforts at

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