In a small village in Malawi, in Africa, where people had no money for lights, nightfall came quickly and hurried poor farmers to bed.
But for William, the darkness was best for dreaming.
He dreamed of building things and taking them apart, like the trucks
with bottle-cap wheels parked under his bed,
and pieces of radios that he’d crack open and wonder,
If I can hear the music, then where is the band?
At dawn in the fields, William wondered as a truck rumbled past,
How does its engine make it go?
As they worked in the fields, William’s family hoped it would rain.
The sun scorched the fields and turned the maize into dust.
Soon, William’s father gathered the children and said,
“From now on, we will eat only one meal per day.” In the evenings, they sat around the lantern and ate
what little they had,
They watched hungry people pass like spirits along the roads.
Money also disappeared with the rain.
“Pepani” William’s father said to him, “I am sorry. You will have to drop out of school.”
Now William stood on the road and watched the lucky students pass by,
For weeks he sulked under a tree, until he remembered
the library down the road, a gift from the Americans.
He found science books filled with brilliant pictures.
Using an English dictionary, William understood how engines moved those big trucks, and how radios pulled their music from the sky.
But the greatest picture of all was a machine taller than
the tallest tree with blades like a fan.
Slowly, he wrote:
“Windmills can produce electricity and pump water.”
He closed his eyes and saw a windmill outside his home,
pulling electricity from the breeze and bringing light to the dark valley.
He saw the machine drawing cool water from the ground,
sending it gushing through the thirsty fields, turning the maize
tall and green, even when farmers’ prayers for rain went unanswered.
This windmill was more than a machine. It was a weapon to fight hunger.
In the junkyard he found rusted treasures: a broken bicycle, bottle caps, a plastic pipe and even a small generator. For three days, he bolted, banged, and tinkered,
while chickens squawked and dogs barked and
neighbours shook their heads, saying, ‘What’s he doing now?”
His cousin Geoffrey and best friend Gilbert soon appeared.
Together, they swung their sharp blades into the trunks of blue gum trees,
then hammered them together to make the tower.
Standing atop, William shouted, “Bring it up!” while the boys tugged and heaved.
A crowd gathered below and gazed at this strange machine that now leaned
and wobbled like a clumsy giraffe.
Some giggled, others teased, but William waited for the wind.
Like always, it came, first a breeze, than a gusting gale.
The tower swayed and the blades spun round.
William connected wires to a small bulb, which flickered at first,
then surged as bright as the sun.
He shouted. “I have made electric wind!”
As the doubters clapped and cheered, William knew he had just begun.
Light could not fill empty bellies, but another windmill could soak the dry ground, creating food where once there was none.
Electric wind can feed my country, William thought.
WILLIAM KAMKWAMBA was born in 1987 and grew up near the village of Wimbe, located in central Malawi. Like many people in Malawi and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, William’s father, Trywell, was a farmer. The Kamkwambas grew a kind of white, sweet corn called maize, which they ate for every meal in the form of porridge. To make extra money for clothes, medicine, and other essentials, they also raised tobacco to sell in the capital city, Lilongwe. Because their only food came from the ground, any problems with the weather, or changes in the price of seeds or fertilizer, could cause serious problems.
That’s exactly what happened in 2001 and 2002. A severe drought killed most of the maize in Malawi. Within several months, the entire country had run out of food and began to starve—a terrible event known as a famine. Eating only one meal per day, William, his parents, and six sisters began losing weight. At one point, his father even went temporarily blind from hunger. The famine killed over ten thousand people in Malawi.
With no money to pay for school fees William had to drop out.
He began visiting a library that was started by the American government. There he found books on science, which he loved.
William didn’t speak good English, so he used dictionaries to learn the words describing the pictures that so intrigued him. One of the pictures was of a windmill. He read that windmills could produce electricity and pump water. Like most people in Malawi, William’s parents had no electricity. And water could be used to feed his father’s fields. Never again would they have to depend on the rain. I will build a windmill, William thought.
The pieces William used to build his windmill were a tractor fan, shock absorber, and the frame of a broken bicycle missing a wheel. For blades, he melted plastic pipe over a fire and flattened them, then carved their shape with a saw. For a generator, he used a dynamo, which is a tiny bottle-shaped device that produces electricity by turning magnets inside a coil of wire. When the wind blew, the blades acted like pedals and spun the tyre, which turned the coils inside the dynamo and produced a current. A wire from the dynamo reached down to William’s room and powered a small light bulb. He was fourteen years old.
Eventually, William used his windmill to charge a car battery, allowing him to power four light bulbs in his parents’ house. But his dream of pumping water wasn’t achieved until several years later when he built his “Green Machine,” which pulled water from a small well near his home and fed his mothers garden, allowing her to grow vegetables year-round. In 2007, William was discovered by some journalists and invited to speak at the TED conference in Tanzania. He’d never been in an airplane, or even seen the Internet. Many people were moved by his story and donated money to help send him back to school, and eventually, install a solar-powered water pump that irrigated his father’s fields, forever protecting them from hunger. William is now a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He is studying to be an engineer and plans to return to Malawi to work on renewable energy for electricity and pumping water in villages.
The boy who harnessed the wind
New York, Dial Books, 2012
Dawn – the beginning of a day/very early morning
Scorch – burn dry
Sulk – show anger by being silent
Gush – to flow out suddenly and strongly
Rust – a reddish brown substance on iron and steel
Tinker – to try to repair or improve something
Squawk – to make a loud, harsh noise.
Tug – to pull sharply and strongly
Heave – to lift or pull with great effort
Wobble – to rock unsteadily from side to side
Clumsy – awkward in movement
Gusting – sudden blast of wind
Gale – strong wind
Doubters – those who feel unsure or disbelieve something
Belly – Stomach
Please make your own sentences with the words above. The sentences should show that you understand the meaning of the words.
B) Discussion Points:
1. Is Africa a country or a continent? Can you point it out on a map? Please share anything you know about Africa.
2. What did William like to do most of all?
3. What did William do, once he had to leave school?
4. What was the monster in William’s belly?
5. What was he most struck by in the science books?
6. What was he determined to do after reading these books?
7. What are the adjectives you would use to describe William?
8. Write a short paragraph about William, using the adjectives in complete sentences.
9. Please talk about the concept of TED talks.
10. If there was one thing you would like to create, what would it be?