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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

By prairiegirl | Books | January 27, 2011 |

By prairiegirl | Books | January 27, 2011 |

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer is one of those books that left me asking, “And just what have I done in my time on this planet?” Not a whole lot, particularly when compared to Mr. Kamkwamba. Seriously, the guy makes me feel like an uneducated loser. But he is awe-inspiring nonetheless.

Born and raised in a tiny village in Malawi, he built a windmill to provide light for his family’s modest hut. This may seem like nothing significant until you consider that Mr. Kamkwamba:

a) was only 15 years old at the time he finished building it

b) taught himself all he needed to know about creating his machine by reading books he checked out of the library, and

c) made it primarily using materials he procured from the local dump.

His feat is even more amazing given that he was coming off the heels of a terrible famine that left him, his family and countrymen on the brink of starvation and death. Forced to drop out of school because he family lacked the money to pay for his secondary education, William’s dream of becoming a scientist seemed nearly impossible. From a young age, he had a passion and aptitude for understanding how mechanical things worked which led him to his free education at the public library where he taught himself what he needed to know to create and harness energy.

His efforts were not immediately successful and he endured his share of setbacks, but he was not deterred in his efforts to build the windmill and explore other potential sources of energy. One particularly funny episode involves trying to generate bio-gas from goat poop using his mother’s best cooking pot. Suffice it to say, his efforts were not fruitful and his mother was less than pleased.

What I found most inspiring about Mr. Kamkwamba was his tenacity in the face of myriad obstacles - hunger, lack of money, and limited formal education to name a few. He never lost his optimism that he could build the windmill of which he dreamed. His whole village thought he was crazy. Once his windmill was proven to be a success, however, he was celebrated and people from miles around came to see it in action. Soon, word spread to a blogger who literally made him an almost overnight sensation. He was catapulted into the spotlight when he was asked to come and speak at the TED conference in 2007. He was lucky to be mentored by some wonderful people who sought to help him on his path of discovery and invention.

Mr. Kamkwamba is a charming narrartor and has a refreshing style of story-telling that made me feel as though I was sitting down having a conversation with him. He often makes jokes about himself, his village, some of the backward thinking of his countrymen. At the same time, he provides a blunt analysis of what is keeping basic things like electricity from spreading across the entire continent of Africa. He shares his vision of utilizing the abundant resources available to eliminate droughts, famine, and disease that are so rampant and in many ways avoidable.

I must admit that I found the first quarter of the book a bit slow, as I was most intrigued by HIS story; the back story of his family, while interesting, was not as engaging. The information certainly had relevance - I just wanted to speed it along a bit. Overall it was a terrific, inspiring book. I plan to follow Mr. Kamkwamba’s blog to learn more about what he is doing to make life better for his countrymen and the world at large. I have no doubt he’ll succeed.

To read more of prairiegirl’s reviews, check out her blog, prairiegirlreads.

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