ON THIS DATE in 1987, William Kamkwamba was born in Dola, Malawi, located in southeast Africa. At fifteen, he built a makeshift windmill to provide power for his impoverished village.

Kamkwamba couldn’t get windmills out of his mind after running across an American textbook titled Using Energy at his local library. He believed a power-generating windmill could improve the quality of life in his village. “Just think, we could have lights!” he told his father. “We could pump water and have an extra harvest. We’ll never go hungry again.” His father said, “Okay. Perhaps you’re right. But please don’t mess this up.”

With no money, Kamkwamba had to construct his windmill from spare parts, including a tractor fan, PVC pipes, and a bicycle frame and wheel. He used blue gum trees to build the wooden tower. The result of his scavenging and ingenuity was a rickety-looking windmill that could power two light bulbs and a radio. Still, it was a start. Later, he would build two more windmills as well as a solar-power water pump that brought drinking water to his village.

In 2009, Kamkwamba wrote about his innovations in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, co-authored with journalist Bryant Mealer.

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