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The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind By William Kamkwamba: An African Story For Catholic Kids Of All Ages

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by the young Malawian inventor/engineering genius William Kamkwamba and by journalist Bryan Mealer is one of the books I will add to my Books For Catholic Young Adults page under the category Young People Today. This category contains books by or about young people with unusual stories, stories as varied as the people of our beautiful world, stories from different places and situations, stories told from the genuine points of view of the protagonists, stories that are valuable for our teens’ growth in knowledge and wisdom, stories they may not easily hear elsewhere - catholic stories.

By catholic I mean:


Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.

Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war.

- Southey.


Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.

Related Words: all-comprehending, all-comprehensive, all-covering, all-embracing, all-encompassing, all-filling, all-including, all-inclusive, all-pervading, allover, broad, broad-gauged, broad-minded, catholicon, comprehensive, cosmic, cosmopolitan, country-wide, cure-all, eclectic, ecumenic, ecumenical, ecumenistic, elixir, extensive, galactic, general, generic, global, heaven-wide, inclusive, indeterminate, international, large-scale, liberal, national, nondenominational, noninsular, nonsectarian, nostrum, planetary, spacious of mind, total, unbigoted, unfanatical, unhidebound, universal, unparochial, unprovincial, wide, wide-minded, widespread, world-wide, worldwide."

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a captivating, well-written, true story of a brilliant boy who succeeds against all odds at getting an education and improving the lives of his Malawi family and village. William succeeds because of his perseverance and hard work, because of the support and love of his family and his village and because of his God-given intelligence and creativity. Once on his way, he receives much help from outside of his village. This book is distinguished by its point of view. It is told by a young African man from Malawi who is wonderfully oblivious of our culture's political correctness. He describes things as he sees them and draws his own conclusions. This book will afford our children a true insight into a different country and culture by a young man of exemplary character.

William Kamkwambe and his six sisters grow up in a typical Malawian farming family who grow maize to eat and tobacco as a cash crop. So does everyone else in their village. In 2005, the crops fail. A drought is followed by floods destroying the harvest and causing a severe famine in the country. The Kamkwambe family barely survives. As a consequence, there is no money left for William’s secondary school education. Instead of just hanging out, the boy begins to read science books at the local library. Donated by the United States, the books are written in English which is difficult for William to read. However, he perseveres and learns about electricity and turbines. For many months, he searches the local scrap yard for materials to build a windmill to supply electricity to his family home. After some initial ridicule, he eventually becomes a local hero, the creator of a working windmill powering a light bulb. With the help of his homemade power source, William eventually pumps water to his family’s fields making them independent of the weather. He also builds a station for the villagers to charge their cell phones. They may not have water, but they sure have cell phones! (the latter would make a great essay/debate topic :))

William’s genius is discovered by influential people who help him to finish high school. He is even invited to speak at a science conference and taken on a trip to the United States.

Today, William Kamkwambe holds a degree in Environmental Studies from Dartmouth College. In 2009, his story was published by Harper Collins and became a huge success. He received much media attention and international honors. William is actively working on improving the lives of his people in Malawi. The Moving Windmills Project, built on his experiences, is supporting rural development projects in Malawi and helping Malawi schools.

In 2015, William Kamkwambe and his co-author Bryan Mealer came up with an unusual idea. They reworked the adult book into a young reader’s edition and a picture book. They must have had homeschoolers in mind.

It is astonishing that The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind has been so successful in the United States. An African author talking about overcoming problems in his developing country may be such a popular topic that the book slipped under the radar of the political correctness police. They overlooked quite bit here:

First of all, the author describes the grasp witchcraft has on the Malawi people and, what’s more, how his family’s Christian faith protects them. He describes witchcraft as real and as evil.

“My father knew a lot about witchcraft, but he had no place for magic in his own life. To me, this made him seem even stronger. My parents had raised us churchgoing Presbyterians who believed God was the best protection. Once you opened your heart to magic, we were taught, you never knew what else you might let inside. We respected the power of juju, even feared it, but my family always trusted our faith would prevail.” p.14

This is William’s account of slavery in Malawi:

”The Yao arrived in Malawi more than a hundred years ago from across the lake in Mozambique. The Arabs from Zanzibar convinced them to become Muslim, they recruited them to capture our Chewa people and put us into bondage…Once there, the slaves were shackled by the neck and made to march across Tanzania…Later on, the Yao captured and traded us to the Portuguese in exchange for guns, gold , and salt…If it weren’t for the Scottish missionary David Livingstone, the Yao and Chewa might still be at odds today. Livingstone helped end slavery, opened Malawi to trade, and built good schools and missions. Young men became educated and earned money, and once these economic opportunities were available to all, our two tribes had little reason to fight.”p.27 (compare this to Wikipedia Malawi History)

Instead of global climate change and colonialism, William identifies the corruption of presidents Banda and Muluzi and their mismanagement of agriculture as the main cause for the famine:

“The stories Grandpa told were from a different time and place. When he was young—before the government maize and tobacco estates arrived and cleared most of our trees—they were so dense a traveler could lose his sense of time and direction in them." p.9

When visiting New York City, William writes: “Standing at a construction site, I watched giant cranes lift enormous pieces of steel into the sky, and it made me wonder how Americans could build these skyscrapers in a year, but in four decades of independence, Malawi can’t even pipe clean water to a village.”

“My fellow students and I talk about creating a new Africa, a place of leaders instead of victims, a home of innovation rather than charity. I hope this story finds its way to our brothers and sisters out there who are trying to elevate themselves and their communities but who may feel discouraged by their poor situation. I want them to know they are not alone."p.286

This attitude, so free of entitlement and blaming the rest of the world, is rare today. William Kamkwambe’s story makes a priceless lesson for our teens and younger kids.

Thanks for stopping by.

God bless you!

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