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People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.


How a farm boy in Malawi harnessed the wind

Somehow this video has been skulking around the internet without me knowing about it. But now that I've found it, I have to share. It's a short glimpse into the life of William, a Malawian maize farmer's son, who had to drop out of school because a drought was making him too hungry to be able to learn.

That's an exceptionally difficult thing to overcome, but he was determined, and had a few things go right. William tracked down some physics books he couldn't fully read, attempted to understand the diagrams, and went to a garbage dump to see whether he could acquire some basic building materials. After rustling up a broken bike, some plastic pipes, some pieces of metal, some wire, and other scraps, he got to work building a windmill.

Against all odds, he nailed it. Initially it generated enough energy to power a lightbulb in his house, and he kept finetuning it to improve its performance. He quickly became an icon in his local community, and his fame spread from there. He's got a pretty great sense of humour, too, as the video will show you.

But the key message in the video for me was how education and knowledge can transform lives that seem hopeless. William found the physics book in a library, and it opened up a world of hope and opportunity for him. Libraries, schools, teachers, and mentors have the power to unlock a world of new possibilities for people living in extreme poverty. People like William have intelligence and creativity, and it's just waiting for a spark to ignite it.

As a global citizen, I think that it's important that every child gets to go to school and connect with this world. Organisations like the Global Partnership for Education are leading the push to get even the most disadvantaged kids a basic education, and it's really exciting to think about how many more talented kids like William will be able to make their mark.

Also, would you like a handy update of how things turned out for William since his ingenuity got him out of a very bleak situation? Well, some wealthy people saw his first innovations, and invested in his education. William made the most of the opportunity, and has recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from the prestigious Dartmouth College in the United States. Nice!