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Kate Dudding: Voices From the Past: April, 2015

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This is the twenty-fifth issue of Voices From the Past. My goal for each issue is to publish some highlights of one of my historical stories as well as an update on my activities. Please feel free to forward this e-newsletter to anyone you think might be interested.

William Kamkwamba Ė a Born Engineer

Hereís the beginning of my story ďWilliam Kamkwamba Ė a Born EngineerĒ about a young man from Africa who is transforming his village.

Photo of William Kamkwamba The year William Kamkwamba was supposed to start high school, he and his family almost died of starvation.

They lived in a village of 200 people, in southeast Africa country of Malawi. They had neither running water nor electricity. Every day Williamís mother spent two hours hand pumping water and hauling it home. Their radios were battery powered.

Malawi is in the tropics. Their raining season is also their growing season Ė December to May. In a good year, a five month growing season produces corn high than Williamís fatherís head.

However, the year before William was supposed to start high school was NOT a good year. The rains came late, and then were torrential, washing away many baby corn plants.

In November 2001, Williamís family only ate two meals a day. In December, they only ate one meal a day. By March 2002, they ate only three mouthfuls a day. I hadnít known that people could survive on only three mouthfuls a day. William, age 14, could count all his ribs. There was no money to pay Williamís school fees, so he couldnít go to high school.

Finally that yearís corn crop ripened and they could eat again. No one in their family had died, although thousands did in Malawi.

William still couldnít go to school. His father had borrowed money against new crop, so money was still scarce. William had been so excited about starting high school. He had always been the kind of student who sat up front, hanging on his teacher's every word, always ready to answer a question with his hand in the air. But now...

Williamís father told him: ďSon, Iíve done my best but the famine has taken everything. We donít have the money to pay for you to go to school. Please understand me, son. I tried.Ē

William said: ďI understand.Ē William knew the family did not have the $80 per year for him to go school. But William couldnít look at his father, not then, not for a week. Whenever he did, William saw the rest of his life. Williamís greatest fear was coming true: he would end up just like his father, a poor farmer laboring in the soil, at the mercy of the weather.

So William went to the local library, consisting of three floor-to-ceiling bookcases with books donated by American government. Imagine, facing a life that he hated, still regaining the weight he lost during the famine, yet not giving up, still trying to learn.

Image of bicycle dynamo generator One day, William was so excited by something he had read, he went to see his friend Gilbert after Gilbert got home from school. (Gilbert was the chiefís son and could still afford to pay for school. A year earlier, William and Gilbert had had a radio repair business. They had taught themselves how radios work by taking a radio apart one piece at a time.)

William excitedly told Gilbert, ďA book in the library explains how a bicycle dynamo generator works. It has a magnet with a coil of wire around it. When the pedals turn, the magnet spins and electricity flows in the wire.Ē

A month later, William read another book. Again, he got so excited that he went to see Gilbert again.

William: Look at this picture Ė itís a windmill.

Gilbert: Whatís so great about a windmill?

William: In Malawi, the wind, blowing in the treetops day and night, is one of the few consistent things that God gives us. People in Europe and the Middle East use windmills to pump water. The windmill spins a magnet inside a motor, larger than a bicycle dynamo generator, and the electricity generated runs an electric water pump.

Gilbert: So?

William: If we could pump water, we could irrigate our crops and have a second growing season!

Gilbert: Oh, so during a famine after a bad growing season, our families would still have food.

William: Thatís right Ė our families would never be hungry again if we had a windmill.

Gilbert: Where are you going to get a windmill?

William: Iím going to make one.

Gilbert: Good luck, William.

Despite there being no design in the book on how to make a windmill, William set to work.

Here is some more information about William Kamkwamba.

News about me

I'll be telling the story of William and other inventors soon:

Poster for May 8 2015 performance

I'll be telling the stories of American women in July at Wiawaka:

Poster for July 8 2015 performance

Thanks for reading this issue. Iíll be sending you some more story highlights in a few months.


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Copyright 2015 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.


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