With input from Minnesotans, African native invigorates his homeland

William Kamkwamba, the 14-year-old son of a subsistence farmer in the Kansugu district of Malawi, quit school in 2001. A drought meant his parents were unable to pay school fees.

But just because he had to quit school didn't mean he was going to quit learning. He started studying the books at the village library. An old junior high textbook about electricity inspired him to build a couple of tiny wind turbines from mostly salvaged parts and bicycle wheels that powered a few lights and pumped groundwater that irrigated a few acres of precious vegetables for his family and neighboring smallholder farms.

Some villagers thought he was crazy to collect junk and spare parts. But their attitudes changed when the windmill-generated power allowed William and others to read at night and to irrigate vegetable plots. His family no longer relied on smoky kerosene lamps or batteries for the radio.