William Kamkwamba was born in Dowa, Malawi, in 1987 and raised in Masitala village along the central plains. One of seven children born to sustenance farmers who grew maize and tobacco, his childhood was often interrupted by drought and hunger.
At age twelve, Kamkwamba became fascinated with electricitya luxury enjoyed by only 2 percent of Malawi. He taught himself radio repair and began tinkering with bicycle dynamos, hoping to understand the inner workings of generators. During a devastating famine in 2001 02, William dropped out of high school during his first semester. As thousands died across the country, he continued his education by visiting a small library near his village that was funded by the American government. After seeing windmills on the cover of an 8th-grade science book, he set out to build his own machine using scavenged parts from a scrap yard. His first windmill was made from PVC pipe, a tractor fan, an old bicycle frame, and tree branches, and powered four light bulbs and charge mobile phones. A second windmill pumped water for a family garden.
Local news outlets discovered Kamkwamba in 2007, which led to a stage appearance at the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania. It was the first time hed ever been on an airplane or seen the Internet. The appearance at TED, and a subsequent front-page feature in the Wall Street Journal, sparked a flood of international support, and soon William returned to school and completed much-needed improvements in his village farm, such as adding drip irrigation to shield his family against future drought. Hes now a student at African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, and recently completed a biography: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope with coauthor Bryan Mealer.
This biography was last updated on 11/09/2009.
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A short video about William Kamkwamba, author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
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