Some people see lemons and make lemonade. William Kamkwamba saw wind and made a windmill.
This might not seem like a mighty feat. But Kamkwamba, who grew up in Masitala, a tiny rural farming village off the grid in Malawi, was 14 years old in 2001 when he spotted a photo of a windmill in a U.S. textbook one day. He decided to make one, hacking together a contraption from strips of PVC pipe, rusty car and bicycle parts and blue gum trees.
Though he ultimately had big designs for his creation, all he really wanted to do initially was power a small bulb in his bedroom so he could stay up and read past sunset.
But one windmill has turned into three, which now generate enough electricity to light several bulbs in his family’s house, power radios and a TV, charge his neighbors’ cellphones and pump water for the village’s fields and household use.
Now 22, Kamkwamba wants to build windmills across Malawi and perhaps beyond. Next summer he also plans to construct a drilling machine to bore 40-meter holes for water and pumps. His aim is to help Africans become self-sufficient and resolve their problems without reliance on foreign aid.
“The problem we have is electricity and water problems,” he says. “I want to be tackling all of them at once.”