Professor’s book inspires teenager


William Kamkwamba with his handmade windmill. Special photo

A science textbook written by UGA education professor Mary M. Atwater is being heralded as the inspiration and guide for a 14-year-old African boy’s quest to build a windmill that provided electricity to his family and village.

Eight years ago, William Kamkwamba’s native Malawi suffered through one of its worst droughts. Thousands died. Others were surviving on one meal a day. William dropped out of school when his family couldn’t pay the tuition but spent his days at the library, where he found a book with photographs of windmills.

That book, Using Energy, was Atwater’s 8th grade science textbook, first published in 1993. It was one of dozens donated to his village in Malawi.
Inspired by the diagrams in the book and pictures of windmills, William decided he would bring electricity to his family’s home, a luxury only 2 percent of Malawians are able to afford. 

Using Atwater’s book, he built a windmill out of a broken bicycle, tractor fan blade, old shock absorber, a pair of flip flops and the tower out of blue gum trees. The windmill generated enough electricity to power four light bulbs and two radios.

Subsequently, William moved on to work on projects to prevent malaria and provide clean water, solar power and lighting to his village.

In late 2006, a Malawian newspaper wrote about William and his windmills. In 2007, a documentary film titled “Moving Windmills” was released. Now 22, William is a student at the African Leadership Academy, an elite South African school for young leaders. Donors pay for his education.