Brain Pickings

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: A Story of Passion and Possibility

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What bamboo poles and bicycle chains have to do with sparking the spirit of entrepreneurship.

When he was only 14 years old, William Kamkwamba dreamt up a windmill that would produce electricity for his village in Malawi. The trouble? As Malawi was experiencing the worst famine in 50 years, William had to drop out of school because his family could no longer afford the $80 annual tuition. This meant he not only had no money to purchase the parts, but also no formal education to teach him how to put them together. Determined, he headed to the local library and voraciously devoured its limited selection of textbooks, then gathered some scrap parts — a bicycle dynamo, bamboo poles, a tractor fan, rubber belts, a bike chain ring — and brought his vision to life, building a functioning windmill. He spent the next five years perfecting the design and went on to found the Moving Windmills Project in 2008 to foster rural economic development and education projects in Malawi.

In 2009, Kamkwamba shared his moving story of perseverance, curiosity, and ingenuity in the memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. Now, this modern-day entrepreneurial fairy tale is being adapted for young hearts and minds in the beautifully illustrated children’s book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition. Kamkwamba’s story shines with all the more optimism and tenacity in the hands of 27-year-old artist Elizabeth Zunon, whose rich, lyrical, almost three-dimensional oil-and-cut-paper illustrations, reminiscent of Sophie Blackall’s, vibrate with exceptional whimsy and buoyancy.

Coupled with the launch is a wonderful literacy effort — for every book parents, teacher, and children read online on We Give Books, the Wimbe community lending library, where Kamkwamba’s journey began, gets a new book, up to 10,000. Despite serving some 1,500 pupils, the library currently has no picture books.

Beautiful, moving, and immensely inspirational, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition tells the kind of story that helps budding entrepreneurs relate to the world through a lens of infinite possibility — the kind of message that might, just might, empower them to harness if not the wind the future itself.

Thanks, Tom

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