The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the story of William Kamkwamba, a young man from Malawi, who, at fourteen years old, battled through extreme poverty and hunger to build a series of windmills from scratch that could generate electricity – a luxury enjoyed by only 2 percent in Malawi.
In 2002, one of the worst famines in Malawi’s history killed thousands of people and forced the Kamkwamba family to the brink of starvation. It also forced William to drop out of school since his father, a maize and tobacco farmer, could no longer afford his school fees. But despite this setback, William was determined to get his education. He began visiting a local library that had just opened in his old primary school funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he discovered a tattered British science book. With only a rudimentary grasp of English, he taught himself basic physics – mainly by studying photos and diagrams. Another book featured windmills on the cover and inspired him to try and build his own.
As his country reeled from hunger, William searched the scrap yards and found old tractor fans, shock absorbers, plastic pipe, and bicycle parts. People teased him and called him crazy, but he continued searching and tinkering and eventually build a crude machine that produced twelve volts and powered four lights. A second machine irrigated a family garden. News of his magetsi a mphepo – electric wind – spread beyond Malawi and William soon found himself traveling the world telling his remarkable story.
Bryan Mealer is the author of Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football's Forgotten Town and the New York Times bestseller The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which he wrote with William Kamkwamba, in addition to the children's book of the same title. He's also the author of All Things Must Fight to Live, which chronicled his years covering the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo for Harper's and the Associated Press. His work has appeared in the anthology Best American Travel Writing and was chosen for an Overseas Press Club Award Citation. He and his family live in Austin, Texas.
Q & A with the author
Bryan answers questions about the origins of the book