Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Creating currents of electricity and hope
Written by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
Cover illustration by Mary Schuck
Published by HarperCollins
Ages: YA / 15+

William Kamkwamba was a regular boy growing up in Kasungu, Malawi, Africa. His father was a farmer living off the land, a hardworking, honest man, who nevertheless found it difficult to feed his family of a wife, six girls, and a boy, with his yearly crop of maize and tobacco. The tobacco would be sold to pay for the children's education, and the maize would feed them...until the middle of the year. Then there would be the struggle to make it last till the next harvest. It was a dreary, difficult life, with not much hope for any better future. Added to that were ignorance, an overall poor state of education, rampant health problems like AIDS, superstitions that were crippling in their belief in magic-- not science, lack of basic amenities like drinking water and electricity. There was also the frequent failure of the rains, leading to a failure of crops, compounded by a tyrannical and indifferent government. All problems that are usually associated with the third world countries.

There was one such famine in 2002 when William was 13, leading to widespread malnutrition and deaths. William's family managed to scrape through it, all of them working odd jobs for a bit of food. There was of course, no money for school fees, and he and his sisters all had to drop out. The following year, there were better rains, and food was manageable, but school fees still were a problem.

William, though, had a keen mind and a thirst for knowledge. While many of his peers loafed around, he would go to the local library, and try to read, (there was a local library with books donated by charities) even though his English was not very good. He chanced upon two books, Explaining Physics and Integrated Science, which lucidly explained the science behind common objects with line diagrams. Using the concepts there, he tried creating electricity with the help of a bicycle dynamo to power a radio. Soon he found another book, Using Energy, which fascinated him with the pictures of windmills on the cover. This gave him his 'eureka moment.' He decided to build his own windmill.

"No more kerosene lamps that burned our eyes and sent us gasping for breath...I could stay awake at night reading instead of going to bed at seven with the rest of Malawi. But most important, a windmill could also rotate a pump for water and irrigation...No more skipping breakfast, no more dropping out of school. With a windmill, we'd finally release ourselves from the troubles of darkness and hunger. In Malawi, the wind was one of the consistent things...A windmill meant more than just electricity, it was freedom."

In the rest of this amazing and un-put-downable book, William recounts his struggle to find material for his windmill in the junk heaps around the village, the hounding by the villagers who considered him crazy, the painstaking putting together of the parts, the support by his family and close friends who helped out at crucial points, the setbacks, and finally, the sweet taste of success.

William's first windmill next to his house.
Soon word spread to neighbouring villages and towns, and people would come in hordes to see this 'electric wind' (as he called it in his local language, Chichewa), and it caught the attention of the media and academics. It was remarkable that a school dropout with not much formal education had achieved what many who are priviledged cannot- found a way out of the darkness harnessing a natural resource- with just a few basic science books at his disposal.

He was invited to be a TED Fellow, and this platform brought his acievement to the notice of the world, along with the spreading word on the blogosphere. It was at the TED conference that he met Tom Reilly, the TED Fellows Director, who would help to launch the Moving Windmills Project  for self-sustainable economic development in Malawi. Since then, William's village has seen unprecedented development, with wind power and solar power at the forefront. William is also all set to complete his education, with dreams of a brighter future for his country.

It is an inspiring story- one that should be widely read. The first few chapters give a stark picture of the poverty and deprivation which make William Kamkwamba's enterprise all the more spectacular.

This is a book for older readers-- 15years +, so I told A the story as I read through it, reading bits aloud to her. There is a Young Readers Edition due to be out in January 2012 that I'll be looking out for.

There is also this video that tells William's truly inspiring story in his own words. After watching this, A is keen to get her hands on the book.

Images courtesy flipkart, Tom Reilly.


ranjani.sathish said...

wow. amazing. I would love to get my hands on this book.

Sandhya, thanks for a great recco.

Anusha said...

brilliant! and inspiring! we have to get this book - while the details may be beyond my kids the message won't be.

Meera Sriram said...

Amazing story and book, Sandhya! Great idea to read bits and narrate the rest with the YA books - thanks:)

Vibha said...

Such a awesome pick Sandhya. Very inspiring and I am sure my son will enjoy it.

Choxbox said...

Awesome, and that is an understatement!

S, do you think the book is okay for my older one? If not, can you specifically say why not?

sandhya said...

@Ranjani: Thanks. Those mechanically inclined will enjoy this book very much, especially the detailed description of how he puts together the windmill. It has been described in such a do-able way.

@Anusha: You must look out for the Young Readers' edition due out in Jan 2012. Should be easier and more interesting (the link to Amazon for this book promises an illustrated edition) for a younger age group.

@Thanks, Meera. I practise my reading aloud on my hapless daughter. Not to mention that she enjoys most of it!:) Actually I do quite a bit of reading aloud to her with books slightly beyond her and explain the bits which are difficult.

@Vibha: Thanks.


I think your FB will be able to handle this book. Content wise, nothing avoidable. Just that the first few chapters might need a bit plodding through - they do tend to get a bit tedious in their description of poverty and superstition- while it is great to sensitise the child to these things, I didn't want to put her off an otherwise great book for want of interest in the opening chapters!

Related Posts with Thumbnails