Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is an extraordinary true story of a Malawian teenager who managed to build windmills that eventually provided both electricty and water for the local community and ultimately transformed people's lives forever.......

 The book tells the story of William Kamkwamba, a Malawian inventor, who as a child over came many struggles to enable him to apply both his natural curosity for science and his courage to build a windmill in his village. After his parents could no longer afford the school fees (£50 a school year), at the age of 14, he was forced to drop out of school and return to working on the small plot of land, growing maize and tobacco, that his family owned. Despite this though and the fact that whilst magic ruled this region science only existed as a mystery, he never gave up on his dream to become a scientist. However, soon after this, a famine hit Malawi and claimed the lives of thousands and left William's family on the brink of starvation. With little money and the prices of seeds soaring daily, his family had little to plant, let alone eat, and so in the hope that someday he maybe able to reuturn to school William spent most of his time in the local library to try and keep ontop of his studies. He quickly became fascinated by electricty and other forms of energy but it was the picture of a windmill in an old textbook that truly changed his life, and that of those around him, forever.

With no money, William had to scanvege in the local landfill site for the material he needed to build a windmill like the ones he had been reading about. All the locals thought he was mad and even his parents questionned what he was doing. However, he was determined to succeed and eventually managed to build his turbine by using bicycle parts and scrap metal. Once he had built the turbine he was able to light his house and then he added further wiring to provide electricty for charging mobiles and using radios and then went on to develop a system that enabled he to store the excess energy for a day when the wind did not blow. After his success with the first turbine, he has since gone on to build another two turbines and a solar powered water pump that, for the first time, has provided his village with clean water. The impacts his windmills and water pump have had on his village are unimaginable and he managed to create this things from practically nothing and with no education.

So, is this a good geography book............ I personally really enjoyed this book as, although at first I was only reading it because of the obvious link to our current module, it touches on many other geography issues too. The impacts of excessive fuelwood gathering are discussed as everyone in Malawi relied on fuelwood as an energy source but the deforestation that this then created made life for Malawians even harder as without the trees the heavy rain turns to floods and this washes away the soils and its minerals which made growing crops even harder. The problem of deforestation was then only made worse by the fact that big tobacco estates that set up had to clear the land in order to allow tobacco plants to be grown. Also, the Malawian government failed to acknowledge the famine and the suffering that was spreading throughout the country. The situation was created in the first place because the floods and droughts in the previous year had created a food deficit. In addition, the international community pressurised the new government to pay off some of their debts by selling surplus maize, however, the government failed to keep some back for emergencies whilst corrupt officals hoarded the rest of it until it eventually spoiled and other traders, who had managed to buy the maize cheaply via corrupt officals, kept it until the dire situation created the desperation that allowed them to drastically rise the prices. The farmers in neighbouring countries, also did a similar thing and almost doubled food prices. There is also a  mention of the Rwandan genocide and other conflict in neighbouring countries and the control excercised by the dictator President Banda over the Malawian people before, in the first election ever held in Malawi, he was voted out. Overall, it is a rather inspirational story which made me really think about the fact that; if a teenager who lacks both the education, technolgy, stability and money that exists in this country, can manage to build turbines and develop solar energy why doesn't renewable energy have a bigger share in our energy mix. We have the technology required to exploit wind energy and yet we chose not to because of the costs and the aesthetical sacrifices we would have to make. If William can overcome droughts and famines and, without any money, equipment, technology or education, still manage to provide electricty for his village by exploiting wind energy what is our excuse for a lack of development in our ability to capture wind energy?

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