Roman Sturgis Take care of each other and make good decisions.

March 2, 2008

William Kamkwamba

Filed under: Blog — Roman @ 7:54 am

I am blown away by William Kamkwamba. Watching a Ted talk (TED.com “Ideas worth talking about”) late last night, I came across a short interview with Mr. Kamkwamba who is from Malawi. When he was 14, Mr. Kamkwamba’s family was not able to afford his $80 a year high school tuition. He lives with his family of 20 in a rural village of farmers.

Money quote: “After I drop out from school I went to library and I read a book titled “using energy” and I get information about windmill, and I try, and I made it.”

He built a windmill using wooden poles, a bicycle frame, and a bicycle “dynamo” (a small generator used to power a light while riding). After the explosion of support he received after attending a TED conference, he built a second windmill, which irrigates crops for his village.

Why is this important?

1. This is the first windmill in Africa I’ve ever heard about.
2. Mr. Kamkwamba was inspired by a library book.
3. The risk he took produced immediate improvements in his family’s quality of life–four lights and two radios means Mr. Kamkwamba can read at night and listen to Malawian reggae all day.
4. This is an example of a poor African helping himself–the project wasn’t done with USAID or PeaceCorps or even Malawian government assistance (though the library very well may have been.) The point is, a kid had an idea that might improve his lot, he acted on it, it worked, and now he’s off to the races.

One of the consequences of his recent exposure has been the support of an unnamed benefactor. Another consequence is that Mr. Kamkwamba will be attending a brand new upper form boarding school in Johannesburg called The African Leadership Academy, which is modeled on British and American elite boarding schools. The goal of the school is to bring Africans from all over the continent to study in an exceptional boarding school environment.

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