“The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind”: a reflection


I have written about William Kamkwamba after I had seen his TED Talk  (July 2009) “How I Harnessed The Wind”  (see http://malbell.wordpress.com/2009/12/19/william-kamkwamba/ (see the video of the talk below to get a feel for the story and the man)

It took me quite a long time to actually get round to reading the book that he co-wrote with Bryan Mealer. I had always promised myself that I would then review the book as I have done for some others that have moved me and influenced me  in the past year.

Having read the book though I felt that the best blog entry I could make would be my reactions to it.

I was moved by it…. in particular the harrowing recount of the famine in his native Malawi that forced William out of school and into the fields to support his family that, like so many others in Malawi at the time, was on the point of starvation. I was especially moved by the putting down of his dog…. this scene was graphic and I lived every moment with William as he had to let his friends put the starving and sick dog out of his misery in what was, at that time, almost a metaphor for the fate of the thousands of humans whose physical decay due to lack of food is described so well.

I learnt from it: I learnt about the Africa of magic and superstition. I learnt what it was like to grow up in a tribal and predominantly agricultural society and the role that tradition played in their lives. I learnt about a society that had been reached by technology (he mentions the radio a lot in his book and he used the parts of cars, bicycles and other machines to build his windmill from scrap materials).

I saw in it the way that William had a powerful need to learn that was not stopped by being unable (due to the famine) to go to school. That the books that had been given as charity to a local library provided him with the knowledge that he needed to make his windmill. Interestingly, he could hardly read English at the time and therefore he understood how things worked mostly from diagrams. He talks about his use of imagination in understanding how things worked.

Lastly, I could see the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson, of finding your “element” were there to be seen in William. The driving force to him was to educate himself so as not to be like his father and his fathers fathers and work the land for the rest of his life. Here was a child (aged 14 when he first built a windmill) who was moved by science and technology. He got so excited by the prospect of building a windmill that he withstood the taunts of others in  his community that he was a “madman” and persevered in loosening bolts (which sometimes took him two hours or more) from rusty old machines that he could use in his windmill. He did all this because he had a vision and he had a passion.

I have been very fortunate to have come across William due to the fortune of looking up and watching a TED Talk. I have since become a friend of his and Bryan on Facebook and have tried to keep up with his life. I would also like to take this opportunity to say how Bryan’s knowledge of Africa (as a very experienced reporter) and his wordcraft added so  much to the production of this really good and important book. I am really pleased that it has been read by so many and that both of the authors have been able to talk about the story all over the world.

I am also pleased that a short break away in the English countryside gave me the opportunity to finally finish the book!

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