What are some lessons we could learn from William Kamkwamba's memoir The Boy Who Harnassed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope and why?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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William Kamkwamba's memoir, titled The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, details his hardships growing up in a poor village of Masitala in the southeastern African nation of Malawi. More importantly, it details his abilities to overcome his hardships through his dedication to education and devotion to pursuing his visions. One of the greatest lessons we learn from the book is that there are two things separating the underdeveloped nations from the developed nations: education and energy. Both of these things need to be generated in underdeveloped nations in order for them to finally prosper.

William grew up in a village in which all residents were subsistence farmers, meaning they were only able to grow and harvest enough crops to live on, not enough to sell at a profit. The village also held onto its traditions of using shamans for all health needs and being afraid of witchcraft. In contrast to the other villagers, William and his cousin Geoffrey, as they were growing up, strove to be more modernized, even learning how to invent their own toys and how to repair radios.

In the year 2000, William's family did not have enough money to buy fertilizer for the new maize crop. In addition, the whole village was hit by famine induced by both flooding and drought. During this time, William was forced to give up the education he dearly valued because his family could no longer afford it. Regardless, he continued to educate himself by journeying to the nearby library. There, he studied books on science, physics, electricity, and electromagnetism and even taught himself some English. When he read a book titled Using Energy about using windmills to convert wind into energy, he became convinced he could help his family significantly if he built a windmill.

Through the help of his cousin Geoffrey, his own ingenuity, and collections of any piece of scrap he thought could be useful, he built a windmill large enough to power electricity in his home and charge cell phone batteries. He even built a solar-powered water pump that delivers to his village its first ever fresh drinking water.

Soon, he became famous as an engineer, had enough money to buy two trucks his family could use to haul their harvests to market to sell for profit, finished his high school education, and even graduated from Dartmouth College.

Hence, through William's life events, we can see just how drastically education and energy can transform a society from being impoverished to being prosperous.

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