William Kamkwamba was born August 5, 1987, in Malawi, Africa, a country plagued by AIDS and poverty. Like most people in his village, his family of nine subsisted on the meager crops they could grow, living without the luxuries—considered necessities in the West—of electricity or running water. Already living on the edge, the situation became dire when, in 2002, Malawi experienced the worst famine in 50 years. Struggling to survive, 14-year-old William was forced to drop out of school because his family could not afford the $80-a-year tuition.
Though he was not in a classroom, William continued to think, learn—and dream. Armed with curiosity, determination and a library book he discovered in a nearby library, he embarked on a daring plan—to build a windmill that could bring his family the electricity only two percent of Malawians could afford.
The windmill project drew visitors from many kilometers away, including Dr. Hartford Mchazime, Ph.D., the deputy director of MTTA, the Malawian Non-Government Organization (NGO) responsible for community libraries.
Mchazime brought press, including: The Malawi Daily Times, bloggers/engineers Soyapi Mumba and Mike McKay from the Baoabab Health Project in Malawi, and Emeka Okafor, program director for TEDGlobal, a prestigious gathering of thinkers and innovators.
Okafor diligently searched for William and invited him to participate as a TED Conference fellow. William’s presentation led him to mentors and donors willing to support William’s education and village projects.
Fundraising by Dr. Mchazime allowed William to re-enroll in high school at Madisi Secondary School. After one trimester, William transferred to African Bible College Christian Academy, a private prep school in the capital city of Lilongwe.
In summer 2008, William completed a English immersion course at Regents Language Institute, Cambridge, U.K.
In September, 2008, William became one of 97 inaugural students at the African Leadership Academy, a pan-African prep school based near Johannesburg, South Africa. The school aims to provide rigorous academics, ethical leadership training, entrepreneurship and design education.