Last week I wrote about a video that the organization One had released, in its effort to spread the word about famine in Africa. My sister Cara wrote in the comments that I should read a book called The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. Since my sister is smart and my Kindle lets me find, buy, and download a book in less than a minute, I did just that and started reading. I just finished the book, and I’m not embarrassed to say that I cried through the last two chapters.
The book is about a boy, William Kamkwamba, growing up in Malawi, a country most of us had probably never heard of until Madonna started adopting kids from there a few years ago. William and his family lived in relative (and I really want to stress the word relative) comfort until drought and then famine swept over his country.
Without tuition money William had to drop out of school, and started educating himself at the local library (three shelves of books). He had a natural aptitude for science, and once he discovered what a windmill was, he was determined to build one for himself. Of course, he had no money for supplies, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him.
My sister warned me that the book takes a little while to get interesting, and she was right: the first few chapters deal largely with the kinds of folklore that the author grew up with. And while I didn’t find these stories terribly interesting, they did help me realize later in the book just how much William was overcoming in order to use science to better his life. When your world is ruled by legends and witchcraft, building a machine that makes electricity isn’t just amazing, but kind-of risky.
At different points in the book I was experiencing déjà vu, and it wasn’t until I was finished that my mind was able to piece together where I’d first heard this story:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
Of course! Because sadly I now get much of my news from Jon Stewart (and Twitter). As good as that interview is, I think it needed subtitles (I’m not dissing William’s English, it’s definitely better than my [insert any other language], but it can be hard to understand at times if you haven’t read the book and don’t already know what he’s referring to.
So I’m begging you, read the book. Not only is it just a fascinating story of how one boy dreamed big and made things happen, it’s also a bird’s eye view of how famine occurs, something I still have a hard time wrapping my head around due to my cushy life. When school fees and medicine and the most basic of necessities take up all of your money each year, the only thing standing between you and death is a good crop, no matter how hard you work.
I never say this about anybody I like, but I hope William chooses to go into politics. Having been on the brink, having seen first-hand how bad luck and corruption and lack of foresight can doom a country, I think he could make a real difference.
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