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William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. HarperCollins, 2009.

 

We can read a personal account of growing up in poverty in rural Malawi in the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. The author, William Kamkwamba, experienced famine, government neglect or corruption in food distribution, lack of mosquito nets to prevent malaria, witnessed prejudice against AIDS victims although 20% are infected in Malawi, and magical beliefs in spells and spirits and witch doctors. Roles were traditional with respect for elders (his younger sisters were expected to bow to one knee to him to acknowledge a request) and segregation of men and women. They eat separately and don’t discuss body functions like pregnancy. A dowry is still expected of the groom’s family plus the cost of an expensive wedding, “which explains why there are so many young, single men in Malawi.” [i]

In his primary school, students studied outside because the classrooms were too full, the roof leaked in the rain, and the latrines were disgusting. He started secondary school where the students sit on the floor because of lack of desks around a giant hole in the floor. In boarding school, two boys had to share one small bed. William had to drop out of secondary school because his family couldn’t afford the fees.

For fun, the boys hunted birds in the woods, listened to battery-powered radios (including American country music singers), and played soccer with a ball made from plastic bags bound in twine. He didn’t mention his sisters doing anything but chores. What rescued him from repeating the cycle of poverty was a library with American books. Fascinated with electronics in a country where only 2% have electricity, he used the books to figure out how to build a windmill from junk. It generated electric lights for his family who could stay up past dark for the first time without using smoky kerosene lamps. News of his windmill spread, and he was sponsored to attend a pan-African high school in South Africa. He believes, “We Africans can develop our continent if we just put our minds and abundant resources together and stop waiting on others to do it for us.”[ii] An example of a local group putting this approach into practice is called Moving Windmills Project (movingwindmills.org) Photos and videos are available online.[iii]


[i] William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. HarperCollins, 2009, p. 99.

[ii] Ibid, p. 269

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