William Kamkwamba was born in Dowa, Malawi in 1987 and raised in Masitala village along the central plains. One of seven children born to sustenance farmers who grew maize and tobacco, his childhood was often interrupted by drought and hunger. At age twelve, Kamkwamba became fascinated with electricity – a luxury enjoyed by only 2 percent of Malawi. He taught himself radio repair and began tinkering with bicycle dynamos, hoping to understand the inner workings of generators. During a devastating famine in 2001, William dropped out of high school. As thousands died across the country, he continued his education by visiting a small library near his village. After seeing windmills on the cover of an 8th grade science book, he set out to build his own machine using scavenged parts from a scrap yard. His first windmill was made from PVC pipe, a tractor fan, an old bicycle frame, tree branches, and produced twelve volts to power four light bulbs and charge mobile phones. A second windmill pumped water.
Bryan Mealer is the author of All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, written with William Kamkwamba. A former Associated Press staff writer based in Kinshasa, Congo, Mealer has reported across the African continent. His work has also appeared in Esquire and Harper’s, among other publications. Born and raised in Texas, he now lives in Brooklyn.
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