In 2002, William Kamkwamba was just fourteen years old. Living in a small village called Masitala in Malawi, Central Africa, William’s parents couldn’t afford to send him to school. With a thirst for knowledge, William went to the local library; nothing more than a concrete shack containing a few make-shift bookshelves scattered with old and tattered books. Among them, William found an old elementary physics textbook. Unable to read English text at the time, William became fascinated by some basic diagrams of windmills.
Armed with nothing but that textbook – no tools or resources, William set out to build his first power-generating windmill. He used branches from blue gum trees, bicycle parts, and materials he scavenged from the local scrap yard. Astonishingly, he pulled it off. And this fourteen-year-old boy gave the gift of electricity and running water to his village for the first time; a luxury that only 2% of Malawians enjoyed countrywide. Single-handedly, William effectively rescued his entire village from famine.
A humbling way to start my Saturday, I met a girlfriend at the State Theatre to watch a docu-movie as part of the Sydney Film Festival. The film, entitled ‘William and the Windmill’, followed William’s life after the Western World discovered his story. Starting at the point where William’s phenomenal accomplishment had gotten out into the blogosphere, William had been invited to speak at the TED Global Conference where he first caught the attention of entrepreneur Tom Reilly.
The documentary shows how Tom took William under his wing. With Tom’s help, new opportunities open up for William; he gets to travel outside of Malawi, get an education in South Africa, write a book, and even talk to major production companies about a movie deal. All before getting a scholarship to the infamous Dartmouth College in America, and settling in as a freshman.
This feature length docu-movie was a long time in the making. Following William’s discovery at TED Global, filmmaker Ben Nabors shadowed William and Tom for five years around Africa and America to beautifully document William’s transition, from his village in remote Malawi, to celebrity stardom.
But Nabors’ intention wasn’t just to make just a feel-good movie about an under-privileged boy who takes it upon himself to transform his life, and the life of others. Nabor also explores the darker sides of being catapulted into the spotlight, including William’s difficulty adjusting to fame, coping with his new life in America, and the home (and family) he left behind.
There is no denying the awe-inspiring achievement of this boy. From watching William make bolt washers out of flattened bottle caps (he pierced holes in them using a heated tool that he fashioned from a stick of metal embedded into a half eaten corn-on-the-cob which he used as the handle), to the light switches in his family’s house where the buttons are made from scrap pieces of flip flops, William’s methodology and engineering skills will captivate any audience.
Preceding this award-winning film is William’s best-selling memoir, “The Boy who harnessed the Wind”. The book offers more of a timeline than the movie. Built in three parts, the book commences with the story of William’s early life in his Malawian village, giving you more of a feel for what life was like for William before his invention and subsequent rise to fame. The second part of the book takes you through William’s discovery of the physics textbook that would change his life forever, and the process involved for William’s vision to come to fruition. Finally, the book in line’s with the documentary and details William’s journey as he’s plucked from his home in Malawi and placed firmly on the global map.
Well worth a look, William Kamkwamba’s inspirational and remarkable story will take over your dinner conversation for many months to come.
Check out our ‘Conscious Shopping’ page for details on purchasing a copy of this magical book.
written by Victoria Garside