Trailer: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

January 26, 2019

Remember this story from a few year’s back?

BBC – 2009:

The extraordinary true story of a Malawian teenager who transformed his village by building electric windmills out of junk is the subject of a new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Self-taught William Kamkwamba has been feted by climate change campaigners like Al Gore and business leaders the world over.

His against-all-odds achievements are all the more remarkable considering he was forced to quit school aged 14 because his family could no longer afford the $80-a-year (£50) fees.

When he returned to his parents’ small plot of farmland in the central Malawian village of Masitala, his future seemed limited.

But this was not another tale of African potential thwarted by poverty.

Defence against hunger

The teenager had a dream of bringing electricity and running water to his village.

And he was not prepared to wait for politicians or aid groups to do it for him.

The need for action was even greater in 2002 following one of Malawi’s worst droughts, which killed thousands of people and left his family on the brink of starvation.

Unable to attend school, he kept up his education by using a local library.

Fascinated by science, his life changed one day when he picked up a tattered textbook and saw a picture of a windmill.

Mr Kamkwamba told the BBC News website: “I was very interested when I saw the windmill could make electricity and pump water.

“I thought: ‘That could be a defence against hunger. Maybe I should build one for myself’.”

When not helping his family farm maize, he plugged away at his prototype, working by the light of a paraffin lamp in the evenings.

But his ingenious project met blank looks in his community of about 200 people.

“Many, including my mother, thought I was going crazy,” he recalls. “They had never seen a windmill before.”


Neighbours were further perplexed at the youngster spending so much time scouring rubbish tips.

“People thought I was smoking marijuana,” he said. “So I told them I was only making something for juju [magic].’ Then they said: ‘Ah, I see.'”

Mr Kamkwamba, who is now 22 years old, knocked together a turbine from spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade and an old shock absorber, and fashioned blades from plastic pipes, flattened by being held over a fire.

“I got a few electric shocks climbing that [windmill],” says Mr Kamkwamba, ruefully recalling his months of painstaking work.

The finished product – a 5-m (16-ft) tall blue-gum-tree wood tower, swaying in the breeze over Masitala – seemed little more than a quixotic tinkerer’s folly.

But his neighbours’ mirth turned to amazement when Mr Kamkwamba scrambled up the windmill and hooked a car light bulb to the turbine.

As the blades began to spin in the breeze, the bulb flickered to life and a crowd of astonished onlookers went wild.

Soon the whiz kid’s 12-watt wonder was pumping power into his family’s mud brick compound.

‘Electric wind’

Out went the paraffin lanterns and in came light bulbs and a circuit breaker, made from nails and magnets off an old stereo speaker, and a light switch cobbled together from bicycle spokes and flip-flop rubber.

Before long, locals were queuing up to charge their mobile phones.


5 Responses to “Trailer: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”

  1. redskylite Says:

    I don’t remember seeing that before – but it is great to see how excited the rest of the villagers were at the result of William’s endeavors and a reminder of all the 1.2 billion who live without electricity. It is also great to see people doing things for themselves, an act that is being lost in the days of corporate providers.

    Applause to young William in the landlocked Republic of Malawi.

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  2. dumboldguy Says:

    A nice “human interest” or “feel good” story, and it’s good to see that it paid off for young William with recognition and scholarships. Beyond that, Malawi as a whole is not going to get all that much from it.

    Only 2% of Malawians have access to electricity (but 1 in 4 have cell phones). Tobacco makes up over 60% of exports, and Malawi has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world.

    Malawi is also suffering from serious food stress

    Of course, Malawi is one of Trump’s “shithole countries” that we are going to cut foreign aid to, so maybe we should just lump them in with Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and South Sudan (all of them are going to be severely impacted by climate change anyway) and forget about them. We’ve got a WALL to worry about, you know.

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    Personally, I wouldn’t use the world “sh*thole” to describe a country. Ok, maybe I would…

    But I must admit I am dumbfounded that in today’s age, there is still a story to be said for basic tinkering in Africa. I mean, wtf already? There are 10,000 youtubes on how to make electricity and lighting and pumping and irrigation and water supplies, etc – all at really low cost.

    How can it be that communities – where people do have cell phones and the internet – still do not have basic RE?

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