William Kamkwamba dreamed of powering his village with the only resource that was freely available to him, wind. His native Malawi had gone through one of its worst droughts seven years ago, killing thousands. His family and others were surviving on one meal a day. The red soil in his Masitala hometown was parched, leaving his father, a farmer, without any income.
"I wanted to do something to help and change things," he said. "Then I said to myself, 'If they can make electricity out of wind, I can try, too.'"
Kamkwamba was kicked out of school when he couldn't pay $80 in school fees, and he spent his days at the library, where a book with photographs of windmills caught his eye. Armed with the book, the then-14-year-old taught himself to build windmills. He scoured through junkyards for items, including bicycle parts, plastic pipes, tractor fans and car batteries. For the tower, he collected wood from blue-gum trees.
That was 2002. Now, he has five windmills, the tallest at 37 feet. He built one at an area school that he used to teach classes on windmill-building. The windmills generate electricity and pump water in his hometown. Neighbors regularly trek across the dusty footpaths to his house to charge their cellphones. Others stop by to listen to Malwian reggae music blaring from a radio.