Using Malawian youth William Kamkwamba as an excellent example of a life and character that epitomises Service, Enthusiasm, Agility of mind and body, and Leadership, Principal Mrs Maryanne Davis continued discussing the Danebank SEAL of Approval with Senior School students at last week's assembly.

William Kamkwamba The boy who harnessed the wind

William was born in 1987 in Dowa, Malawi, in southeast Africa. He grew up on a family farm with his mother, father and six sisters. The farm was in a remote area of the country, about two-and-a-half hours from Malawi’s capital city.

William went to his local primary school at Wimbe and progressed through to the eighth grade. He was accepted into secondary school, something that does not happen for everyone in Malawi. However he didn’t even finish his first year in secondary school because a terrible famine meant that his family couldn’t afford the school fees of $80 a year. So William had to leave school.

William could have just accepted that that was that – no more education – no more gathering of knowledge and understanding. However, the 14-year-old boy decided he wanted more. He was an enthusiastic learner, so he went to the small local library and borrowed a secondary school textbook about energy. That book showed wind turbines on its cover.

This inspired William to build a wind turbine for his very poor family. This would serve his family best, because it would provide electricity at a time they used kerosene in a lamp that provided very poor light at night. William had a very agile mind and wasn’t put off by the fact that the elements to create a turbine as described in the text book were not available to him.

So, he built a five-meter-high windmill out of an old motor, a broken bicycle, a tractor fan blade, an old shock absorber and wood from some local trees.

William hooked his windmill up to an old car battery to store some of the energy his windmill generated, and created a system with home-made light switches and a circuit breaker that he made using nails, magnets and wire. William then realised that he would catch more wind if he extended his windmill to 12m high. He then built another windmill to pump the grey water from his home onto their small patch of land to water vegetables.

William’s windmills were copied and encouraged the village to explore opportunities for solar power and to link the two to pump clean water. The idea of combining the power in wind and sun was widely adopted and a drip irrigation scheme was established in the village.

William’s desire to serve, his enthusiasm for learning, his agility of thinking and willingness to lead his community into new direction was not limited by his age. His actions brought prosperity to his village. For the first time the village was able to purchase uniforms and boots for the village football team, Wimbe United. The uniforms have a sun-and-wind theme. The team has been on a winning streak that has brought the village together with pride.

William’s agile thinking inspired others

William’s windmill project brought people from many kilometres away to his little village. One of the visitors was Dr Mchazime, the then-director of a non-government organisation that controlled the village library where William had first borrowed the text book that had inspired his windmill project. Dr Mchazime brought the press and there was a big story in the Malawi daily Times.

That story was blogged and news of William’s windmill reached TEDGlobal, a group that seeks out people who are agile thinkers and innovators. TEDGlobal invited William Kamkwamba to their conference to deliver a speech, which led to lots of people seeking to assist him by mentoring and guiding his thinking, providing educational opportunities and funding further projects.

In 2014 William graduated from Dartmouth College and began working for a company that helped him to go to places in India that needed different approaches sanitation. He also used the fact that he was now recognised and respected, to work to prevent gender-based violence in Kenya. William is now working with a company called WiderNEt to develop an on-line course that will help people to do what he has done – to bridge the gap between knowing and doing. This course is distributed throughout Africa.

The Danebank seal of approval

Does William deserve the Danebank SEAL of approval? Absolutley! He has served his community and the wider communities throughout the developing world. He has achieved great things driven by his enthusiasm to learn. He has shown exceptional agility in his thinking and has led not only his local community, but also communities throughout his region.

We have so much – so much education and so much financial advantage. If William, with only primary schooling and no money or resources, could change the world, I think we should be challenged to think about what we could do to change the world.

William Kamkwamba is an inspiration to us all, a worthy recipient of the Danebank SEAL of approval.

Danebank girls are encouraged to think about their place in the world and to form their personal response to the Christian message. They are encouraged to develop fine personal attributes such as integrity and compassion, to develop their Faithful hearts. Read more about the Danebank Service to others here.

If you are interested to know more about what William is doing now, you can read his blog here.

Read his book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind or watch the movie version on NetFlix.