Catching the Wind in Rural Malawi

Kamkwamba_inline_diagram_640x585Maywa Montenegro in Seed:

Fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba had never heard of windmills, or climate change, for that matter, when he stumbled across a photograph one day and it changed his life forever.

Now 22, Kamkwamba has become something of an international DIY celebrity: He’s spoken at the World Economic Forum, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and at TED Global—twice. He’s chatted with Al Gore, Bono, and Larry Page. A documentary about his life is currently in the works. But Kamkwamba’s story isn’t really about stardom: It’s about the grit, resourcefulness, and audacity of a young engineer who built a windmill from scrap in his native Malawi and brought power to his home—and eventually lit up every house in the village. It’s told in brilliant detail in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, (out now from William Morris) co-authored with journalist Bryan Mealer. Seed editor Maywa Montenegro spoke with Kamkwamba while he was in New York City kicking off a US book tour.

Seed: How did you first get the idea to build a windmill?

William Kamwamba: In 2001, there was drought in Malawi so many people didn’t have enough food. Starting in November, people began starving to death. It was the same year I was supposed to start high school, but in Malawi you pay school fees. My parents couldn’t manage to pay the fees so I was forced to drop out.

In order to keep up with my friends who were going to school, I decided to start reading books at the library. When I was reading, I came across a book that had a picture of a windmill. I thought maybe if I try to build one of these machines, I will be able to pump water for irrigation and then my family would no longer have to go through this hunger problem.