Author William Kamkwamba delivered a message straight from the heart of a 24 year-old-man who has lived a life that has inspired many readers. He told groups of UTC students when they are discouraged or overwhelmed by classes and life “don’t give up; everything is possible.”
Known by some today as “the windmill guy” Kamkwamba told his story in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. The entire campus community was invited to read the book selected from 70 nominations for UTC’s First Year Reading Experience (FYRE) program.
Kamkwamba lived through unimaginable hard times in his home country of Malawi, Africa, where he said most people are farmers, but not by choice. “Being a farmer is a difficult job,” he said.
Ten years ago, a draught severely affected the corn crop, the same year Kamkwamba was to begin high school. Unlike public schools in the US, Malawi schools require tuition. As the draught spread and the government sold off the corn crop outside Malawi, the young boy watched famine and cholera spread, killing many people. His family barely survived, with only a daily handful of nsima, a maize dish, to sustain them.
Kamkwamba’s family had no money for him to attend school, so he began to teach himself from the few books he could borrow from three shelves of a library. He got the idea to create a windmill. From discarded or used items Kamkwamba collected, he assembled his windmill and brought rudimentary electricity to his tiny family home. News of his success began to spread and journalists told his story.
His invitation to become a Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) fellow brought new opportunities for Kamkwamba. Most importantly, his education continued and he will soon begin his sophomore year at Dartmouth, where he is enjoys international and engineering classes.
A bigger windmill Kamkwamba built to pump water for his father’s crops brought prosperity for his family. His father now plants a variety of crops two or three times annually instead of once a year. Kamkwamba also humbly acknowledged he is now in a position to help others in his village, including his dear friends who were generous to him in his early years.
He wants to apply the knowledge he learns in school to take back to his home country, including introducing clean water programs and solving energy problems.
When asked what he missed about his home, he mentioned family, food and the environment. He politely responded to the differences in African and American culture in terms of waste, saying sometimes he thinks “if I was at home, I’d just pick that up and take it with me.”
With a big smile, Kamkwamba told the UTC community he was happy to visit the campus.
“Thank you for choosing my book for the first year program. I don’t take that for granted,” he said.