“If you want to make it, all you have to do is try”
- William Kamkwamba
"Look,” someone said, “He’s made light.” That one simple phrase illustrates the courage and ingenuity of a young boy seemingly trapped in the poverty and hopelessness of a tiny village in Malawi, Africa. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind follows William's autobiographical journey. Readers are taken along for the ride as we see his curiosity and lust for learning, pushed by the need to grow food during a famine, take him far beyond the confines of his situation. Throughout the book, William reminds us that there are still places in the world where access to things like plentiful meals and books is rare.
The story of William’s journey from a young boy’s isolated existence without education or money to a young man sparking a world-wide project that improves the lives of his countrymen is fascinating. Although his descriptions sometimes reflect simplicity and a still-growing understanding of the world, they also give us a clear picture of a young boy driven to better his life and the lives of those around him. Armed with only a few textbooks and a great willingness to question and explore, William builds a primitive windmill. The range of this windmill grows over time from initially powering William's radio to then shedding light in his room, home and village. Then, he uses his growing knowledge of electricity to fashion a water pump for his mother.
The personal and human portions of this story are especially touching: William’s first realization that he might live his life toiling in the fields, facing illness and ignorance; his hunger pains during the height of the famine; his tale of his mother’s bout with malaria; his friendships with boys who were attending school when his family could not afford to send him. In each of these situations, we see a bright mind and a strong determination willing to experience struggle, frustration, and even ridicule on the way to his dream.
William takes the reader into a typical life of a Malawian village. We have the literary experience of walking the trails near William’s home in Malawi, climbing the tower holding his “electric wind,” and eventually traveling across the globe to share his story. We stand outside the schoolhouse, feeling his longing for a chance to sit in one of those chairs and learn. We turn with him from the schoolhouse to the scrap yard, from the landscape to the library. We see a young mind expand, inquire, and grow.
Why We Love It:
William Kamkwamba is a shining example of how people in many poor countries are brilliant entrepreneurs and problem solvers for some of the many obstacles they meet in their daily lives. We are grateful that circumstances worked in his favor and William was able to tell his story to the rest of the world. Everyone can be inspired by the moments he shares about his life growing up in Malawi and his insistence on overcoming famine by building a windmill - which he did against all odds. In fact, his story is so inspiring that it was recently made into a movie (we also recommend this)!
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a must read at One World Center. In fact, we have all of our volunteers going to Malawi read it before they go. We run volunteer programs in Malawi and other countries so that we can help support and empower more Williams. The World could use a lot more people who push the boundaries and create change. A little spark of change can set off a chain reaction, impacting just one person to an entire village.