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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

May 29, 2012 05:45PM ● By Courtesy of Harper Collins


Like most boys in his Malawi, Africa village, William Kamkwamba grew up believing that magic ruled the world and hardship dominated life. As the only boy of seven children, he dutifully helped his father with the family’s farming, while also tending to his studies. Like most Malawians, he routinely went to bed right after dark because kerosene to light lamps was very expensive (besides producing thick, black smoke that burned his eyes and made him cough). The year he turned 13, Kamkwamba also went to bed hungry. In 2000, a drought struck Malawi and devastated the country’s maize crops, resulting in the worst famine in 50 years. The following year, he had to drop out of school because his parents could no longer afford the $80-a-year tuition. While seeking a distraction from boredom and starvation at the community library, he discovered something that dramatically changed the course of his future: the miracles of science. 

The story of how he achieved his dream of bringing electricity, light, and the promise of a better life to his family and his village started with a bicycle dynamo - basically, a pedal-powered wheel that generates light. This taste of electricity (a luxury enjoyed by just two percent of Malawians) filled Kamkwamba with a desire to create his own. Before long, his scientific curiosity sent him on a quest to build a windmill to operate a water pump. Besides dealing with financial obstacles and technical difficulties, Kamkwamba had to teach himself physics, overcome local superstitions, and withstand being mocked for his “crazy” ideas. His device parallels the new technologies that many are optimistic will solve the world’s energy and environmental crisis.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is like a fable, but its applications are practical and far reaching. A remarkable success story about the power of human ingenuity in the face of crippling odds, Kamkwamba  will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual to change the world. 

Beyond the inspirational story of one determined, courageous, and ingenious teenager, Kamkwamba’s story calls attention to the plight of Malawi, a country caught in the grip of AIDS and poverty. He shares his vision for “a new kind of Africa, a place of leaders instead of victims, a home of innovation rather than charity.” By accomplishing a remarkable feat against formidable odds, Kamkwamba serves as a leading light and beacon of hope for the young, poor, and disadvantaged in every continent. “All things are made possible,” he attests, “when your dreams are powered by your heart.” 

William Kamkwamba is the co-author with Bryan Mealer of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. The book was a New York Times best-seller, and Kamkwamba’s story was featured early in the Wall Street Journal. Since then, he has appeared on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CSPAN Book-TV, and NPR.

Mr. Kamkwamba will be the Keynote Speaker on Thursday, June 28 at Energypath 2012, a sustainable energy conference held June 25-27 on the campus of DeSales University in Center Valley. For more information visit or call 610-264-4440.  

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