An event last month co-hosted by TED and Andrew Natsios in Georgetown, DC introduced America to the amazing story of “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind,” William Kamkwamba.
William is from Malawi and he was just 14 when he built a windmill to provide his parents’ house with enough electricity to read and listen to radio.This month, age 22, he was hailed as a “genius” on TV chat shows and lauded by Al Gore and shared a stage with Bono.
When Kamkwamba stopped going to school because his family could no longer afford the fees, he went to his local library, found a DIY guide to making a wind generator and built it from a tractor fan, shock absorbers, PVC pipes, and a bicycle
He is now known as “the boy who harnessed the wind” – the title of his book (click on the image to buy it from Amazon US).
“I managed to teach myself about how motors and electricity worked. Another book featured windmills on the cover, and said they were used to pump water and generate power. I was so inspired I began collecting scrap metal and old bicycle and tractor pieces. Many people, including my mother, thought I was crazy,” he wrote in his blog this week.
“Right now people are coming to my place and having to charge their mobile phones because that’s their like cheapest way of charging the, the mobile phones,” he told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer
“My sisters, six sisters, one the oldest, she’s smart, so they let her study and they gonna start at night,” (now there is electricity).
Local journalists found out about his windmill, and soon Hacktivate blogger Mike McKay wrote about him. Word spread around the world, and that landed him an invitation to TED. He had never flown in an airplane, used the internet or slept in an hotel before going to the TED conference, and nerves got the best of him. “I lost my English.”
But at TED, he wanted to pass along a message to his fellow Africans and the poor who are struggling with their dreams.
Trust in yourself and believe. Never give up.
Kamkwamba shows that innovation and resourcefulness are not lacking in the poorest countries, so much as the financial or physical resources, says Simon Trace, the chief executive of Practical Action, the charity founded by “small is beautiful” development expert Fritz Schumacher. “The technologies are mostly available. The main problem is improving people’s access to them,” he says.
TED is a small nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.
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