By Rita Field-Marsham
Many inspirational stories come out of Africa but few have got the attention of that of William Kamkwamba, the Malawian secondary school student and inventor.
William gained fame when, in 2002, he built a windmill, to power a few electrical appliances in his family’s house, using blue gum trees, bicycle parts, and materials collected in a local scrap yard.
Since his family had not been able to afford the US$ 80 to send him to school, William educated himself by going to his village library. It was there he found a book called Using Energy. He simply followed the pictures and an explanation of how windmills work.
His story is told in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, written with journalist Bryan Mealer, which was published in 2009.
Local publicity led to William being invited to speak at a technology conference in Arusha, Tanzania. His speech so moved the audience that several venture capitalists present pledged to help finance his secondary education. His story was picked up by international media, including The Wall Street Journal, which led to William being invited to the United States, where he became and immediate television celebrity. His interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show (on YouTube) is well worth a look.
William became a student at the African Bible College Christian Academy in Malawi, but is now on a scholarship at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Kamkwamba is one of four recipients of the 2010 GO Ingenuity Award, an annual prize, awarded by the Santa Monica-based GO Campaign. to inventors to promote the sharing of innovations and skills with marginalised youth in developing nations.
With the grant, William intends to hold workshops for youth in his home village, teaching them how to make windmills and repair water pumps.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. (By Bryan Mealer) is available in bookstores worldwide or through Amazon.