African Teen Builds Windmills from Junk and Supplies His Village with Electricity

A teen erected several windmills that pump water and generate electricity in his hometown, north of the capital, Lilongwe.

Malawi, William Kamkwamba’s native, seven years ago had gone through one of its worst droughts, wiping out thousands. His loved ones and others were getting by on one meal a day.

via TED; William Kamkwamba and self-made windmill

“I wanted to finish it just to prove them wrong,” he said. “I knew people would then stop thinking I was crazy.”

Though despite all the scarcity, one item was still abundant: wind. “I wanted to do something to help and change things,” he stated. “Then I said to myself, ‘If they can make electricity out of wind, I can try, too.” Kamkwamba was ultimately kicked out of school when he was unable to pay $80 in institution fees, and at the library he spent his days, where a book with windmill pictures tickled his fancy. “I thought, this thing exists in this book, it means someone else managed to build this machine,” he expressed.

Weaponed with the book, the then-14-year-old tutored himself to construct windmills. He combed junkyards for items, including plastic pipes, bicycle parts, car batteries and tractor fans. For the tower, from blue-gum trees he amassed wood.

“Everyone laughed at me when I told them I was building a windmill. They thought I was crazy,” he said. “Then I started telling them I was just playing with the parts. That sounded more normal.”

That was 2002. Now, he has five windmills, the tallest at 37 feet. He built one at an area school that he used to teach classes on windmill-building. The windmills generate electricity and pump water in his hometown, north of the capital, Lilongwe. Neighbors regularly trek across the dusty footpaths to his house to charge their cellphones. Others stop by to listen to Malawian reggae music blaring from a radio.

However, some villagers would surround him to snicker and point, Kamkwamba said. Ignoring them, he would quietly bolt pieces using a screwdriver made of a heated nail attached to a corncob. The heat- from both the crowd and the melted, flattened pipes he used as blades-did not deter him. Three months later, his first windmill churned to life as relief swept over him. As the blades whirled, a bulb attached to the windmill flickered on.


His story has turned him into a globetrotter. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, an avid advocate of green living, has applauded his work. Kamkwamba is invited to events worldwide to share his experience with entrepreneurs. During a recent trip to Palm Springs, California, he saw a real windmill for the first time-lofty and majestic-a far cry from the wobbly, wooden structures that spin in his backyard.

Kamkwamba, now 22, is a student at the African Leadership Academy, an elite South African school for young leaders. Donors pay for his education.

Netflix released a movie this year called “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” based on William Kamkwamba’s life.


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