I saw a story about William Kamkwamba about a year ago on TV and was instantly moved to tears hearing his account of building something that most of us would more or less think nothing of; a windmill.
William comes from the Republic of Malawi, a small, land-locked country in southeastern Africa. It is one of the most densely populated and least developed countries in the world. William was born in 1987 and had to leave school when he was 14 because his parents could no longer afford the $80 US tuition. He decided to educate himself, and began to visit his village’s library where he found a book called Using Energy that explained the workings of windmills. He took it upon himself to attempt to build one, and using blue gum trees, bicycle parts, and materials collected in a local scrapyard, he built a crude windmill that had enough energy to power the lights in his family’s home. And then he built another windmill that had enough power to pump water to irrigate the fields in his village, where drought had devastated the crops in the preceding years.
His story spread to all corners of the world, and in 1997 he was invited to speak at TED, a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. TED started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Participants are invited to give talks lasting no more than 18 minutes to explain their concepts, ideas or passions and the annual conference attracts the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers.
William is not entirely fluent in English yet, but he does his best to explain his dream of building his village’s first windmill in the following video:
William has gone on to do many things since building his first windmill. You can read all about his ventures here. If William Kamkwamba doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know who will!