Inventor and Author William Kamkwamba Shares His Story, Humbly

In an All-School Meeting in Elfers on Jan. 28, Lambert lecturer William Kamkwamba shared his story of building a windmill in his small village in Malawi when he was just 13 years old.

The uplifting journey of hope and perseverance led to a New York Times best-selling book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, written by Kamkwamba and journalist Bryan Mealer. In 2019, a film with the same title, was released  on Netflix.

Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country often plagued by drought and hunger. In 2002, following a severe drought, Kamkwamba built a windmill to bring electricity to his family’s home. His neighbors thought he was crazy to undertake the effort, but with spare parts, old textbooks, scrap metal, and a lot of determination, he realized his dream. After the success of the windmill, he built a solar-powered water pump to supply drinking water in his village, and two other wind turbines, the tallest standing at 39 feet. 

In his humble address to the community, Kamkwamba spoke about how even as a young boy he was very curious about how things work. As a five-year-old, he used to think that the voices he heard coming from a radio were actually “little people who lived inside of it,” he said. The fascination led him to take apart a radio, which, by trial and error, helped him understand how it worked.

He had to leave his high school because his parents could not afford to pay the tuition. He educated himself by reviewing his former classmates homework. But once he latched onto the idea of building a windmill, he spent countless hours in the library reading old physics and math textbooks and collecting metal scraps from the junkyard to build a windmill. 

When news of the windmill broke, it became a tourist attraction. A journalist visited the village and as news of his accomplishment spread, Kamkwamba gained global recognition. He went on to become a 2007 TED Global Fellow, and was a finalist for the Tech Museum Award, He graduated from Dartmouth College in 2014 and is currently working on building an innovation center in his village to empower young people to solve local problems. 

Asked by a student in a Q&A following his address whether he ever felt discouraged in his quest to build a windmill. Kamkwamba said that although challenges can sometimes stymie you from fulfilling your dreams, they can also strengthen your resolve. 

His mantra is: “Trust yourself. Believe in what you do, and don’t give up.”   

The first people he brought to see his windmill when he finished it were his two best friends because they believed in him from the start, he said. He hopes to continue inspiring people throughout the world to find ways to solve problems in their own communities.

The Lambert Fund, established in 1981 by Paul C. Lambert ‘46 and his wife, Mary, in memory of their son, Christopher ‘76, who died of cancer in 1979. It was the Lamberts wish that the funds be used to provide a stipend for writers of prose and poetry to visit the School twice each year to work with students in the English department and offer an evening of reading for the community.

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