The story of William Kamkwamba defies the stereotypically lost potential from an impoverished African childhood.
The young man who changed the way of life for civilians in Malawi just by first picking up a book came to share his story with Virginia Tech Monday in Haymarket Theatre.
Kamkwamba, 22, who made a stop to promote his book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, came for a tour of campus. He signed copies with his co-author, Bryan Mealer.
He is also considering applying to Tech. "I am interested in the technology programs," Kamkwamba said. "If I came to Tech, I would apply my knowledge from the classrooms. In the end I just want to be applying my knowledge."
Kamkwamba has used his determination and effort, despite negativity from the people of his village in the beginning of his endeavors, to create windmills that promote power and electricity to those same people.
Tom Rielly first met Kamkwamba in Arusha, Tanzania for the June 2007 TED Global Conference. Rielly, the community director for TED Conferences LLC, now serves as Kamkwamba's personal mentor in the United States.
"After speaking to him for about 20 minutes, I realized that he was an extraordinary young man and that I needed to find a way to put him on the TED Global Stage," Rielly said.
He received a standing ovation after speaking for only four minutes at the conference.
Impressed, Rielly went on to accompany Kamkwamba to visit the small village of Wimbe in Malawi, where the boy grew up.
"(I was) trying to help him achieve his goals of getting a good education," Rielly said, "and helping his family build security by helping him build a larger windmill to pump water to irrigate crops."
Because of an ongoing famine, his parents didn't have any money to send him to school, which left him no choice but to drop out, Kamkwamba said.
"I was reading books about magnetics and I was interested to learn," Kamkwamba said. "I was fascinated to learn that you can pump water. The pictures encouraged me. I didn't have any money to collect my materials so I went to a junkyard."
With these materials he went on to build his first windmill at the age of 14.
Many people called him crazy and thought he was on drugs while he was experimenting with creating a windmill.
"I wasn't happy, but it didn't discourage me because I knew exactly what I was doing," Kamkwamba said.
Kamkwamba wants to produce water wells by drilling and pumping water with the aid of machines. He hopes to make clean water available for a greater portion of the population back home.
"The machines in Africa are too expensive for most people in Africa, so I want to see what I can do to help these people," Kamkwamba said.
Kamkwamba now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa in pursuit of his high school education. He is currently a senior and enrolled in an African Leadership Academy. He is preparing for SAT testing, which will take place for him in November.
During his time in Blacksburg, he will be visiting the mechanical engineering department, including the robotics laboratory, RoMeLa.
Kamkwamba will briefly meet with university officials, including Richard Benson, dean of the College of Engineering, Mildred Johnson, director of undergraduate admissions, and Charles Steger, university president.
He will also be meeting with two faculty members who have done work in Malawi: George Glasson, a professor in the College of Education and part of the Malawi Project at Virginia Tech, and Josiah Tlou, a retired professor of the School of Education. He will also meet with students who are involved in the Malawi Project at Virginia Tech.
"Now that I came here, I'm more likely to consider applying here. So far I like Virginia Tech. I didn't expect a lot of students to attend my presentation, and I appreciate them taking the time to come out to it," he said.
"I especially like talking to younger people because they have time and they're at this point in their lives where they can see William's story and hear it, and actually go do something," said Bryan Mealer, Kamkwamba's co-author.
Kamkwamba's nationwide book tour will take him to cities including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Boston in addition to his Blacksburg visit.