Imagine you live in a country struck by a severe drought which has killed thousands of your citizens, including some of your family. There is no food and you are starving to death. What would you do? William Kamkwamba, a teenager from Malawi, decided that, rather than wait for the authorities to help, it was down to him to help bring running water and electricity to him hometown.
Malawi is a small, landlocked country in the southeast of Africa. In 2002, a terrible drought swept across the country and many people starved to death. Hard to believe, in this day and age. 14-year-old William and his family were also affected so William decided to do something about it. He had always enjoyed science at school but during the time of the drought, he was unable to attend. So he spent time at the local library instead and one day he picked up a tattered old book on windmills. It was the book that changed his destiny and those of his fellow villagers too. He deciding to build a turbine without money or even the help of his government.
William told the BBC News: “I was very interested when I saw the windmill could make electricity and pump water. I thought: ‘That could be a defense against hunger. Maybe I should build one for myself’.”
In between helping on the family farm and studying, lit by a paraffin oil lamp, William worked on his turbine prototype late into the night, using discarded rubbish from his neighbours. His family, neighbours and friends had never seen a windmill before and worried about his sanity. Some even suggested he was high on drugs.
“…I told them I was only making something for juju [magic].’ Then they said: ‘Ah, I see.’”.
William constructed a wind turbine using bike parts, a tractor fan blade, and a shock absorber. He created the blades from plastic pipes which he flattened using the heat of a fire.
When he had finally finished, he demonstrated how his turbine worked by hooking it to a car light bulb. The looks on the faces of his fellow villagers must have been a sight when the blades spun and the bulb lit up. William said the crowd went wild.
William is now a 22-year-old man and tells his wonderful story to a TED audience, which you can watch below.
photo credit: Invigorate