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William & The Wind: The Story of William Kamkwamba


Enjoy this behind-the-story look at William Kamkwamba from Shannen Yauger, author of William and the Wind. This original illustrated storybook from The Good and the Beautiful Library is based on the story of William Kamkwamba, most commonly known as The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Download these free coloring pages with images taken from William and the Wind.

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William and the Wind  

William Kamkwamba stands out as an individual who truly overcame an enormous obstacle and used the lessons he learned to help others. While researching biographies to feature in The Good and the Beautiful Library, we came across his powerful story. Jenny Phillips and I wanted to focus on people who persevered through hardships and made a difference because of it. 

William’s story begins as a young teen in Malawi. Due to extreme famine, his family did not have food or money and were unable to pay school fees. Instead of accepting defeat, he worked with his village librarian and continued to study, learn, and grow. 

Photograph by: Olivia Scott Kamkwamba

His natural curiosity for all things having to do with science led him to a junior high school textbook from the US about energy. He studied this book and was able to imagine a way to build an electricity-producing windmill using scrap metal and spare parts.

I found William’s story to be inspiring. In the face of extreme adversity, he didn’t give up. He found a way to continue to learn and wasn’t afraid to try and fail. His curiosity led him to save not only himself but also an entire community. 

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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

William is the only boy in his family, and one of seven children. He grew up in a family of farmers, in a country of farmers, most of which grew maize. In 2001, his country experienced a horrible famine. In a short span of time, starvation caused the deaths of many people. With no food, there was also no income. In William’s words from his Ted Talk in July 2009: “I was forced to drop out of school. I looked at my father and looked at those dry fields. It was the future I couldn’t accept.”

Photograph by: Gilbert Wimbe

Determined to continue to learn, William visited the village library. He studied anything he could get his hands on but especially loved all things science. He was fascinated by books on energy and physics. If he was unable to read the words, as the books were written in English, he studied the diagrams and pictures in the books to help decipher the words on the pages. 

However, it was a textbook on energy that lit a fire in William to reach further than anyone had before. He found a section on windmills and deciphered that a windmill could pump water and generate electricity. He was fascinated by this concept and worked hard to find a way to make this a reality for his people.

His first windmill, built from scraps, generated electricity for one light bulb. This seemingly small success was all that William needed to grow his confidence. One light bulb grew to multiple lights for his home, then to a machine to pump water for irrigation. People from his village came to charge their electronics. 

Reporters found their way to him as well, and his story was shared around the world in books and in a well-known movie. William co-wrote The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2010) and then followed it up with a picture book edition (2012) as well as a young readers edition (2016).

*The original book is not on The Good and the Beautiful Book List, however, the picture book edition is. Find it on our free digital Book List here.

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William Kamkwamba’s Impact Today

This publicity made it possible for William to share his story of invention and discovery. Furthermore, he was asked to speak at a TED Talk, and there he was able to share his dream of building a larger windmill to help with irrigation for his entire village. He shared that he wanted to go back to school and continue his education. Many people heard William and vowed to help.

Photographs by: Gilbert Wimbe

Scholarships, mentorships, and a community of business leaders made it possible for William to not only return to school but to work with organizations to inspire other children in his country to reach for their dreams.

As the co-founder of the Moving Windmills Project, William “inspires a generation of problem solvers” by teaching children to use their natural curiosity to create ways to make their lives better. This project has also built wells, installed solar-powered pumps, renovated local schools, provided learning materials, and supported community development efforts.

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William’s Powerful Story 

No matter what hardships William Kamkwamba faced, he never became discouraged. He did not give in. He did not take the easy route. Against all odds, he used his desire to learn and his natural gift of curiosity to save a community.

In his first TED Talk, William ended his story with “I tried. And I made it.” Two years later, he adds to this inspirational wisdom with “Trust yourself and believe. Whatever happens, don’t give up.”

Don’t forget to download our free coloring pages!

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William and the Wind cover and interior page
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