Inequalities and Perspective

From 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. this morning my water was shut off. I was initially miffed because that would throw off my usual morning routine, forcing me to get up earlier and shower before the 7:00 a.m. deadline.

However, in my haze of semi-awake frustration I remembered the speaker I was covering later in the day, William Kamkwamba, author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

A native of Malawi, Kamkwamba grew up in a rural agrarian village. Because annual rainfall is so unpredictable in Malawi farmers are never certain how much of their crops will survive to be harvested, he said. In 2001, when Kamkwamba was 14, the country suffered one of the worst droughts on record and many families only had one-quarter of the harvest they had estimated.

In the months after this drought Kamkwamba was forced to drop out of school because his family could not afford to pay the tuition. Wanting to continue his education and improve the day-to-day lives of the people in his village Kamkwamba began to read the textbooks available in the local library, eventually teaching himself physics.

After seeing a photograph of one on the cover of a textbook, Kamkwamba decided to build a windmill to bring electricity and running water to his village. Ridiculed by a culture that values myths and traditions above science, Kamkwamba was determined to persevere.

The windmill worked and now it powers a small number of laptops at the local school and can also charge cell phones, power tools, and light a room.

Next time my water is shut off for two hours…I’ll remember this courageous man and his desire to better the lives of the people around him.

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