William Kamkwamba learnt physics through pictures, built windmills in drought-hit Malawi

18th Aug 2017
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Malawi, a small country in southeastern Africa, is often hit by droughts, one of which severely affected the then-14- year-old William Kamkwamba and his family. People in Malawi are primarily dependent on farming and irrigation for their livelihood and when this drought hit years ago, the survivors were left with nothing but hopelessness and starvation. One thing that was still available in the country in large amounts, though, was wind.

Image source: YouTube

There came a point when William had to drop out of school as his family could barely consume a few spoonfuls of food every day, let one being able to pay his fees.

Image source: TypePad

Despite his circumstances, William didn't lose hope, and in fact got hold of an old physics textbook that, because of his limited knowledge of English, took him a while to decipher. His family, neighbours, and friends thought he was wasting his time but William did whatever he could to understand the content through the pictures.

With what little he could decode, William made out that wind power directly leads to the generation of electricity, and that consequently, water can be pumped, crops irrigated, and families saved from imminent death.

"I wanted to do something to help and change things. Then I said to myself, 'If they can make electricity out of wind, I can try, too'. Everyone laughed at me when I told them I was building a windmill. They thought I was crazy. Then I started telling them I was just playing with the parts. That sounded more normal," he told CNN.

People in the locality and even his own family came to the conclusion that William had gone mad, occupying himself with building a windmill. He nevertheless scoured through junkyards and pits for the necessary items which included bicycle parts, plastic pipes, tractor fans, and car batteries. To build the mill tower, he collected wood from blue-gum trees.

Image source: TheExtraOrdinary

Soon enough, media houses competed to feature him in their publications and William became a worldwide sensation in 2002. As of now, he has built five windmills all by himself.

Twenty-two-year-old William now studies at the African Leadership Academy and his education is completely funded by donors. Former American Vice President Al Gore once appreciated and recognised William's work, which is now a case study for several entrepreneurs in the US.

Speaking with BBC, William said,

"I want to help my country and apply the knowledge I've learned. I feel there's lots of work to be done."

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