I’ve had this book to my to-read shelf on Goodreads for years (seriously, I think I added it after seeing William Kamkwamba on The Daily Show, which was…2009 according to Google). I finally found a copy at the library, and devoured it. William Kamkwamba’s story is fascinating, and incredibly well-told. If you liked I Am Malala, you should definitely check this one out.
“I didn’t have a drill, so I had to make my own. First I heated a long nail in the fire, then drove it through a half a maize cob, creating a handle. I placed the nail back on the coals until it became red hot, then used it to bore holes into both sets of plastic blades.”
William Kamkwamba grew up in a village in Malawi, raised by a poor farmer who spent his whole life trying just to keep food on the table for his big family — all the while encouraging their education. William always had a curious spirit, and would follow people around asking questions like, How does a car work? or What is electricity? He and a friend even had a radio-repair business as kids. When a famine hit Malawi in 2002, he was forced to leave school since his parents could not afford his $80 a year tuition. Despite the horrific situation around him — people begging and starving in the streets — William’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge could not be dampened. Through a combination of borrowing his friend’s schoolbooks, and reading every single book in the library, he taught himself everything he could about mechanics and physics and math. Eventually, he came up with the idea to build a windmill, to provide electricity and water to his suffering village, and set to work.
The structure of this book reminded me a lot of Malala’s (as well as the general amazingness of the author). William starts by telling us the background of his family and village. We learn about his childhood, his friends, his dog. He speaks of the famine and the terrible things that happened as a result — riots in the lines for food, thievery, rampant disease. And then he talks about how he came up with his idea, and the people who scorned him or helped him along the way. Finally, he wraps up with some of the amazing things that have happened since his story began to circulate throughout the scientific world. The writing is excellent, and William comes off as extremely likable, not only for his intelligence and honesty, but for his enthusiasm for learning and helping people.