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William Kamkwamba: The Inspiration Behind Netflix’s “The Man Who Harnessed The Wind”

In January 2019, Netflix released an exclusive film on its streaming platform. It featured Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aïssa Maïga and Maxwell Simba. The film, titled “The Man Who Harnessed the Wind”, was based on the true story of William Kamkwamba.


Who is William Kamkwamba?

William Kamkwamba is a Malawian author, engineer and innovator. Born on 5th August 1987 on a family farm in a village called Masitala in Wimbe, he leveraged on the tiniest learning opportunity and created a huge impact in his community.


At only 14 years old, Kamkwambe started borrowing books from a small community library at his former primary school. One time, he borrowed an American textbook, Using Energy. It had wind turbines on its cover. He then decided to use the knowledge he garnered from the book to build a windmill to create electricity for his family.



Kamkwambe’s first prototype was a five-metre windmill. He made it from a radio motor, a broken bicycle, an old shock absorber, a tractor fan blade and blue gum trees. He then hooked the windmill to a car battery for storage. William Kamkwamba was able to power four light bulbs and charge his neighbour’s mobile phones with it. With the system, he made light switches and circuit breakers with nails, wires and magnets.


Afterwards, he extended the windmill into 12 meters to get a better grasp of the wind above the trees. He then built a third windmill to pump grey water for irrigation. Some great projects then followed this feat. Lighting for six homes in his family compound, electricity from solar panels, clean water, malaria prevention, a solar-powered pump for clean water from a deep well, and a drip irrigation system are only a few more things Kamkwambe contributed to his community from then on.


After all the attention, Kamkwambe got admitted into American University, Dartmouth College. He graduated in 2014. He now works at a non-profit organisation that helps provide digital education to communities across the world. William Kamkwamba also runs the Moving Windmills Project foundation, a pet project he created in 2009.



Global attention

Kamkwambe’s windmill got the attention of visitors from around his community in no time. A domestic publication, the Malawi Daily Time, did a story on him which got international attention. Engineers at the Baobab Health Partnership in Malawi also blogged about the story. With all the media attention, the program director for TEDGlobal, Emeka Okafor, finally got wind of it. This led to William giving his first TED talk and that birthed more global attention. His presentation led to more donations, further projects and global support for his innovations.



Netflix special

After all the exposure Kamkwambe got, he has done several more projects to give back to his community. This caused Netflix to project his very inspiring story on its platform, especially as he started out at such a young age. Also, Nigerian-American actor Chiwetel Ejiofor directed the film.


His story was even more inspiring because of how poor he was. He was the second eldest child of seven children. His parents, Trywell and Agnes Kamkwamba, could not afford to pay his $80 annual school fees due to severe famine in 2001. He had to drop out of school, and could not go back for five years.


Watch the trailer to the Netflix film below.


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