Heroes You Should Know: William Kamkwamba

 

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If ever there was an example of creativity finding a way, it would be William Kamkwamba.

 

Born the second of seven children in a farming family in Malawi, he was forced to leave school at 14 when a devastating famine sucked the life out of his country’s soil and his parents could no longer afford the $80 annual school fee.  But William wasn’t about to stop learning, turning to the local library for educational material without missing a beat.

 

Early on he’d shown talent with electronics, having started a radio repair business to make extra money for his family.  Even so, when he built his first electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap at age 14 to power his family’s home—working only from plans he found in a library book—heads began to turn.

 

An international blogger heard about the young inventor, wrote about him, and the rest is history.  TED Global Conference director Emeka Okafor tracked down William and invited him to speak at the next conference about his windmill and his dream to build larger windmills to help his village.

 

Not surprisingly, a generous outpouring of financial support followed his presentation.

 

And as a result, William was able to improve his original windmill by incorporating solar power—and then adding this system to the new windmills he built.  He also developed a solar powered pump to help produce clean water, and a bio-gas digester that uses cow dung to generate gas for cooking.  His innovations have lowered dependence on firewood and overall deforestation.

 

William was also able to re-start his formal education as well, first as a student at the African Leadership Academy, and then at Dartmouth College where he graduated in 2014.

 

Somehow, he also found time to put his story into book form, with the internationally acclaimed The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.

 

Named by Time magazine as one of the “30 People Under 30 Changing The World,” William remains committed to his country’s growth, and envisions building an innovation center in Malawi where other inventors can share their discoveries and their dreams.

 

William Kamkwamba is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

D-Day and Us

d-day

72 years ago today, more than 160,000 Allied soldiers stormed 50 miles of Normandy coastline, to strike a decisive blow for freedom.  60% of those men were killed or injured before they even reached the shore, and 10,000 would not live to see nightfall on June 6th—D-Day.

A few years ago, Jenni and I travelled to Normandy, and arrived in the small town of Bayeux late in the afternoon.  And because we were still a couple of hours away from dinner time, we decided to dump the suitcases in our room and set out on a walk.  Almost immediately we came upon a sign pointing toward the British war cemetery on the outskirts of town, and we decided to pay our respects.  There, just under 4,000 British soldiers are buried, having paid the ultimate price for freedom in the historic invasion.

Making our way slowly and reverentially through the rows of tombstones we noticed a still-fresh bouquet of flowers lying on the  grave of a twenty year old British soldier who had died the day of the invasion.  And as we drew closer, I saw a notecard peeking out from beneath the flowers, with the slightly smudged “17 June” visible.  The visitor had been there just a day before we arrived.  Who would be leaving a handwritten message on a marker that was 64 years-old?  My curiosity got the best of me and I gently lifted the bouquet to read the rest of the message.

“Sweetheart, I love you and always will.” 

Even now as I read these words I catch my breath;  the message was so simple, and so profound.  Of course there is much we don’t know about this love.  But we do know what matters most…that it endured.  Across the years and tears, the love endured.  But how?

How much time could these sweethearts have even had together?  He was dead, tragically taken, before his twenty-first birthday.  Yet, sixty-four years later she returned;  still feeling, remembering, and sharing what they had.  Reality is so much more powerful than anything Hollywood could dream up.

I think about that woman every time June 6th  roles around.  So many lives altered on that one significant day.  And how different would our lives be today if the Nazi’s had repelled the Allied forces, and turned the tide of the war?  What if evil had won?

The ‘greatest generation’ is almost gone, now, and as they slip into eternity I fear that fewer and fewer will fully appreciate the tremendous debt of gratitude owed to these heroes. This is why days like today are so significant.

We must be reminded to remember.

And ‘remembrance’ becomes a virtue when we both remember and then live differently, more gratefully and purposefully, because of the remembering…we honor those who sacrificed for the Good, and remind ourselves that freedom isn’t free…and that “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

May we never forget what happened on the beaches of Normandy on this day.  And the responsibility we carry to live differently because of this day!