The new Netflix drama, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, out Mar. 1, is based on the true story of Malawian 13-year-old William Kamkwamba (played by newcomer Maxwell Simba), who saved his town from famine by building windmills that would provide water and electricity. The subject of the biopic is an adult now; so what is William Kamkwamba doing in 2019?
The now 31-year-old inventor has given two TED Talks on his accomplishments, in 2007 and 2009. In his first short interview, he delved into how he decided to make a windmill in the first place, saying that he was forced to stop attending school because his parents couldn't afford it, but that he decided to educate himself by visiting the local library. It was there that he found a textbook that showed how to make a windmill, and the various uses it had, including providing water.
In his next TED Talk, he detailed the struggles his family faced upon the town's famine. He also shared that, at first, people didn't understand what he was doing and poked fun at him. But once his invention worked, he became a notable innovator, with people visiting his hometown just to look at his creation.
These TED Talks allowed people outside of Malawi to learn about his efforts, with entrepreneurs taking note of his efforts and financing his education, per Wall Street Journal. Kamkwamba attended African Bible College Christian Academy, an international school in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.
In the same year as his last TED Talk, he co-wrote with Bryan Mealer the memoir that the Netflix film is based on, detailing how he came up with the idea for his creation and why it was so important to him. The memoir made even more people take notice of his work, and was even adapted into a children's book.
Kamkwamba’s life has changed so much since then. After receiving attention for his accomplishments, he moved to the U.S. to study at Dartmouth College, per the university’s newspaper. He received his bachelor’s degree in 2014. According to his public Facebook profile, he moved to San Francisco shortly after graduating, where he has remained since.
His official bio also mentions that since finishing his education, he has continued his efforts to help others, expanding his work beyond bettering his hometown, Kasungu. After graduating, he started his tenure at Ideo.org as a Global Fellow, where he had the chance to travel the world “working on projects ranging from sanitation in India to gender-based violence prevention in Kenya.” The bio also says he’s now working with WiderNet, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing digital education for communities across the globe.
In addition to all of that, he’s also been running the Moving Windmills Project foundation, which he created in 2009. He used to give updates on the foundation’s efforts in one of his sites, up until 2014. The last update mentions that he was focused on helping out the Kasungu district, particularly the village he grew up in, Wimbe.
“We have been able to build three classroom blocks with two classes each for the local primary school, Wimbe primary school. These new classrooms have solar panel installations that allow the students to study late into the night. We have also introduced a one-laptop-per-child initiative, which enables us to expose these youngsters on how to use computers at an early age,” wrote Kamkwamba. “Our local high school too has been a beneficiary of your generous support. We have also installed solar panels and systems in Kachokolo high school, which allow the students to use computers for their studies. In fact, we have created a local network through the use of egranary, a box that stores academic information within a local network. It is like a digital library. This means that students don’t need to be online to access academic material. They simply need to access the local network using a router!”
He also ran a biogas digester project in Kasungu, that generated gas through the use of cow dung. In addition, he taught people how to fix water wells in order to avoid cultivating diseases that come from lack of maintenance, per his site.
In the five years since, the foundation continues to thrive, and now it’s using the film to find new people to help out with its efforts. The foundation's homepage greets future fans of the movie and promises to give visitors “the latest from our NGO, Moving Windmills Project, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.”
Those who have heard Kamkwamba's story have felt inspired by his ambition to help his country with his innovation, starting from a very young age. And now, as the Netflix film premieres, he can inspire a new generation of inventors.