Poetry in Motion

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Low on inspiration? Your cup will spilleth over when you read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, the true story of an African boy who refused to give up on his dream despite incredible odds. Armed with a burning desire to learn, a mind wired for invention, and a tremendous love of his family and motherland, William Kamkwamba takes you to the Malawi of his childhood where necessity first forced his wheels to turn.

Sitting at his father’s feet, young William listened attentively to the storytelling that explained the reasons for the pervasive magic that permeates the logic of Malawians and much of Africa; how magic has been with them from the beginning. “In a land of poor farmers, there were too many troubles for God and man alone. To compensate for this imbalance, he said, magic existed as a third and powerful force.”

As William grew, he quickly understood the need for some belief system to justify the instability and hardships of farming. In 2002, as the scorching sun and angry rains of Africa withered the country’s food supply, William lived in helpless horror as his family struggled to survive on one scant meal each day. Widespread famine brought the bloated bellies and hollowed eyes of starvation into the homes of William’s beloved friends and neighbors. Watching the thin wisps of his fellow countrymen being swept away, William decidedly opted for science over magic.

“No more skipping breakfast; no more dropping out of school. With a windmill, we’d finally release ourselves from the troubles of darkness and hunger. In Malawi, the wind was one of the few consistent things given to us by God, blowing in the treetops day and night. A windmill meant more than just power, it was freedom.”

It was on this wave of thought that the ever resourceful William scraped and scavenged from his surroundings in hopes of creating his “electric wind”. By having a power source, William could generate both electricity and the power to irrigate crops, ultimately providing two annual yields instead of one. So, with enviable tenacity and the loyalty of friends, William managed to construct his windmill despite the scoffs and taunts of “madman” coming from town. Slowly but surely persistence paid off, and the wind of William Kamkwamba’s machine became headline news.

In essence, this is the story about the wonder of a child and the fruition of his dream. It is a story of purity and unselfishness; a loving quest to better the lives of others. It is the coming together of belief, science, technology, and people who work to improve the plights of our planet. But more than that, it reinforces our most important resource after all: the human heart. Perhaps there is magic in Africa in the person of William Kamkwamba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

-Review by Megan Shaffer

*For related information, please try these links but be aware that they might provide plot spoilers. As always, reading the book first is optimal:

Bryan Mealer is the co-author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Video presentation by William Kamkwamba

BBC article on the 2002 famine in Malawi

Picture of William Kamkwamba with his windmill

TED technology page

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