Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Electric Wind: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Boy who harnessed-3Dcover on whiteWilliam Kamkwamba grew up fearing magic and ghost planes while working on his father's farm.  He planned to start working hard at school as soon as he made the secondary grades, but unfortunately this meant his grades on the selection exam were poor and he was assigned to a low rated school.  Since Malawi is a poor country that struggles to supply even the top rated classes, this meant few textbooks and crumbling facilities.  When famine struck the farmers in 2002, school fees became impossible as the family gave up eating more than once a day or the chance of growing a cash crop.

 Refusing to relinquish his dreams of an education, William turned to a local library in hopes of learning at home until he could return to classes.  Finding books on electricity, he decided to build a windmill to provide power to light his house, and eventually to bring irrigation to his family's farm.  Enduring ridicule as he picked through junk yards and trash heaps for materials (even a few feet of copper wire overpowered his minuscule budget) he slowly assembled both the windmill (never before seen in his village) and the generator to transform the wind into electricity.  Soon his household was the only one with a steady source of light, and his cell phone charger because a neighborhood attraction.  Fame and (very modest) fortune followed a TED conference appearance; the last few chapters detail the difference this has brought to his family and village and prospects.

Brian Mealer helped write The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (William barely spoke English as he taught himself physics from a British science book), but the voice sounds authentically young.  Brian's website talks about how he worked to bring William's story to life, even mentioning how he took notes and charged his laptop with the titular windmill. The story of William's Edisonian efforts to find scraps to fit the needs of his invention is inspiring and real, making look at my own slacker kids with jaded eyes.  (Good thing I can't look at myself with those eyes!)

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