What do you get if you combine bicycle parts, tree branches and other bits of junk? Well, if you’re William Kamkwamba, you get to save your entire village…
In 2002, Malawi (a country in southeast Africa) was hit by a terrible drought that killed thousands of people and left many without food and water. And in a tiny village called Masitala, the future looked bleak for 14-year-old William Kamkwamba and his starving family… but William wasn’t about to give up.
A smart solution
It all started when William saw a diagram of a windmill in a scruffy old textbook at the local library (his family could no longer afford to send him to school, so this was where he got his education). When he saw that the windmill could make electricity and pump water, he thought to himself, “This could be a defense against hunger. Maybe I should build one for myself.”
And that’s exactly what he did. William studied the design, went home and collected whatever he could find – tree branches, bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade, plastic pipes and other pieces of scrap. Then he put them all together to create this 5m-high windmill:
Clever or crazy?
“Many, including my mother, thought I was going crazy,” says William. “They had never seen a windmill before…”
But they didn’t think he was crazy for long… One day, William clambered onto his windmill and attached a car headlamp to the turbine. When the wind started turning the blades and the light flickered on, it made everyone gasp – William’s “crazy” idea had brought electricity to his village for the very first time! Soon enough, everyone was talking about the 14-year-old’s amazing magetsi a mphepo, or “electric wind”, and it wasn’t long before they were queuing up to charge their cellphones. Watch William tell his story here…
About 10 years have passed since William built his first windmill, and that really was just the beginning… This big thinker has also brought sustainable drinking water and irrigation to his village, and he hopes to bring electricity to all the people of Malawi, where only 2% currently have it. Now that’s what we call a bright idea…