The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Here, ThinkFun founder Andrea Barthello shares the incredible story of William Kamkwamba. This inspired young man from Malawi truly embodies what it means to be a problem solver. Enjoy!

During the spring of 2007 I received a phone call from my son Sam who was at the time a sophomore at Princeton University.  With some urgency in his voice, Sam asked, “Mom, do you want to go to Africa”.  Without hesitation I said, “Yes when are we going?!”

That was the start of an adventure and an impact on my life that I could never have predicted.  I am grateful for that phone call – I’ll explain why.  In the fall of 2007, having had our shots, purchased our malaria pills and other precaution-oriented pharmacy items – Sam and I were ready for an adventure and off to TEDGlobal in Arusha, Tanzania!

I won’t go into the impact that TED has, as that is another story and continues to evolve to this day.  I will tell you, though, that I value the friendships I made, the country, the villages, the people, the majestic animals in their natural habitat… the opportunity to travel with one of my sons brings tears to my eye to this day – it was a most special trip.

The reason I am writing this now is because this month marks the graduation of William Kamkwamba, a boy from Malawi I met at TEDGlobal in the fall of 2007.

William shares his story at TEDGlobal 2007

When William was 14, his country was suffering from famine and drought, his family was starving and could no longer afford to send him to school.  So what did he do?  Young William built a windmill which ultimately provided electricity for his village. He built it out of scraps from a junkyard, and his source of inspiration was a drawing in a book called Using Energy he found in the library.

Luckily for William, there was a man named Tom Rielly at TED.  Tom became William’s mentor, and has really become William’s “American dad.”  William’s story has evolved and is shared in the book The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer – I promise you will love the story.  Share it with your kids, they will be moved and inspired as countless others have been.

“William Kamkwamba’s achievements with wind energy should serve as a model of what one person, with an inspired idea, can do to tackle the crisis we face. ” -Al Gore, former Vice President & Nobel Laureate

When Tom Rielly asked me/ThinkFun to help support William’s return to school to finish his education, I had no hesitation – William is the perfect example of a “problem solver in action,” and our products help kids learn how to problem solve – so of course the answer was yes, we would help.

Since that first meeting in 2007, William has returned to school, brought electricity to his village, dug a well for his village, started a school in his village, co-authored a book, been the focus of a Documentary film that is in the works, traveled across the US on a book tour, and now he will graduate from the African Leadership Academy – WOW!

William and co-author Bryan Mealer in my kitchen during his recent US book tour!

But wait, the story does continue.  This fall, William will return to the US and head to Dartmouth College, where he is going to continue his education with a focus on engineering.  Stay tuned more updates and photos, and please visit to learn more about William and get involved.

7 thoughts on “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

  1. Linda

    I read this book and shared the story with my kids at school. Problem solving at its best!

  2. Charlotte Post author

    Love to hear it, this is SUCH a powerful story to share with young learners! Would love to hear more about the conversations this sparked with your students!

  3. Pingback: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope | home equity loan lenders

  4. Ruth Ann Harnisch

    We at the Harnisch Foundation have been inspired by William Kamkwamba and Tom Rielly, and are proud to contribute to the documentary “Moving Windmills” that is currently in production.
    Andrea has been so generous to William in many ways, but the greatest of these, to quote an unimpeachable source, is love.

  5. Charlotte Post author

    Ruth, thank you so much for sharing this message, and for your continued support of this incredible young man! We are all so eager to see the innovation he continues to bring to his community and the world – and I’m looking forward to hearing an update on the graduation festivities!

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