At TEDxSMU last month we had a brief visit with William Kamkwamba, the Don Quixote of Africa, and Bryan Mealer, journalist. William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer are co-authors of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, one of Amazon’s Top 10 books of the year.
A truly remarkable story, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the story of William Kamkwamba, a young man from Malawi, who, in 2002, at fourteen years of age endured one of the worst famines in Malawi’s history. The famine killed thousands of people and forced the Kamkwamba family of 20 to the brink of starvation. William had to drop out of school since his father, a corn and tobacco farmer, could not afford the $80 a year school fees.
But William was just as hungry for education as he was food. William tells us,
“I looked at my father in those dry fields and knew it was a future I could not accept.” Becoming a farmer “who farmed to live rather than for profit was unacceptable.”
So he continued studying on his own at a local library which had just opened in his old school. The library was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Even though his English was very rudimentary he taught himself basic physics, primarily through studying the diagrams and photos in the bedraggled fifth grade science book, Using Energy. In his autobiography, he says, “The book has since changed my life.”
While his villagers poked fun and thought him crazy, William rummaged through junk at scrap yards and used garbage- discarded tractor fans, shock absorbers, plastic pipes, and bicycle parts and built a windmill that generated enough electricity to produce twelve volts that powered four lights. A second windmill was able to irrigate the family garden. Since electricity is a luxury that fewer than 2 percent of Malawians enjoy, news spread. In his book he says, “A windmill meant more than just power. It was freedom.” He tells us, “My family would never go hungry again.”
Bryan Mealer, whose work has appeared in Esquire and Harper’s, among other publications, is the author of All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo and a former Associated Press staff writer, had been based in Kinshasa, Congo for four years. He was despondent and burned out, constantly reporting on the bad news that comes out of Africa. He happened to read a Wall Street Journal story about William, after William had gone to a TED conference, and said to himself, “This is the story I’ve always wanted to write.” He believes a reporter has a responsibility to tell the news, good or bad, but “to find good stories you have to look for them.” The two teamed up to write an inspiring work.
Join us in this short clip as we talk about things that matter with people who care…
Niki Nicastro McCuistion
Executive Producer/Producer The McCuistion Program