Christian Long

William Kamkwamba: Building a Windmill

In TED Talks on April 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

Reflection by SYLVIA A.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

William Kamkwamba:  Building a Windmill

William Kamkwamba, for the first time in the U.S., talks about the creation of his windmill.

The mere facts of the story would shock you:  he built it when he was only 14 years old in his country of Malawi suffering form famine after he had to drop out of school and taught himself physics from a textbook he could not even read.

It’s hard to believe this larger than life story came from the humble Kamkwamba.

At 19 during this talk with Ted founder Chris Anderson he is shy, awkward, and quite charming actually. From the nervous laugh at the beginning of his talk, to the sigh of relief you can almost hear leave William’s body as he acknowledges the crowd when the talk is over, you can sense his ever-present nerves.

In some strange way his nerves calmed me.

This wasn’t some showy scientist or bombastic speaker that would distract you with his words. It was a real person. He had no choice but to show his true self on stage. It’s apparent from the beginning that his English wasn’t amazing, but does that really matter? 93% of what we communicate as humans is nonverbal, so despite the language barrier, I believe the audience still felt the power and passion of his story.

Language is not the only obstacle William had to overcome.

Growing up in poverty was a constant struggle, along with the crushing blow of the famine that hit his hometown of Malawi. William’s inspiring back story and incredible transformation as a speaker can be looked at in his second Ted talk 2 years later (which I also blogged about).

This cursory glance only scratches the surface of the real meaning of William’s story for me. This is a raw look at human intelligence and what it can accomplish.

Intellect is a universal language. There is no cultural, language, sex, age, or race barrier.

For being an example to the world of that definition of intellect, Kamkwamba has received international attention. He has become an inspiration to many and a beacon of hope to the villagers back in Malawi where his story began.

  1. […] Everything about him has changed. Not only his whole demeanor changed but he has gained that certain quality. Kids now days might call it swagger, but for my task at hand I’ll call it confidence. Even with his new confidence he hasn’t lost that honest charm as you can see, when he admitted wanting to vomit during his first session with Ted (which I also blogged about). […]

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