William Kamkwamba

William Kamkwamba solved his African village's famine problem by building wind mills. 

Just eight years ago, the people of William Kamkwamba’s village in Malawi, Africa were experiencing a devastating famine. William, 14 years old at the time, was forced to drop out of school because his family could no longer afford to pay for his education (approx. $80 a year). So what did William do? Like any good engineer, he began to research and look for creative solutions.

William’s passion for science and math led him to the local library, where he taught himself physics from textbooks (William even learned a new language as he went along, as the books were all in English!). He was so inspired by the pictures of a windmill he saw in a book about renewable energy that he became determined to build one himself. He scavenged for spare parts at a local junkyard, ultimately coming up with materials like bicycle wheels, PVC pipe and a tractor propeller. After two months of hard work and resourceful thinking, he was able to transform these odds and ends into an electricity-generating windmill. The windmill successfully powered several lamps in his family home and later could charge cell phones as well — remarkable in a country where only 2% of the population has access to electricity.

In 2007, after his story had generated overwhelming interest in the press and the blogosphere, William was invited to travel to the U.S. and appear at a TED Conference. After adding a second windmill, solar panels, bright lighting, and a deep water well to his family compound of six homes, William is now preparing to apply for colleges and he’s looking to come to the United States.

In addition, William helped found the Moving Windmills Project in 2008 to help pursue rural economic development and education projects in Malawi, Africa. The foundation’s motto is, “African Solutions to African Problems,” which means it works with local leaders to determine, organize, and implement the appropriate solutions to provide the local community with food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, health, education, clean water, and a strong sense of community.

For more videos of William, check out his talk at the 2009 TED Conference and his recent appearance on The Daily Show.