Harnessing the Wind, Harnessing Adversity: Wisdom from William Kamkwamba

The first time I watched William Kamkwamba’s entertaining and motivating TED talk from 2007, I found myself moved to tears. At the age of 14, Kamkwamba, an inventor from Malawi, built a wind turbine for his family’s farm based on plans from a book in the library.

Although there was much to be inspired by, from his sheer determination to educate himself to the unusual passion he had for wind mills, it was his resolve to change circumstances most people would accept as impossible that most touched me. As he said “I looked at my father and looked at those dry fields. It was the future I couldn’t accept”, I knew he would find a way where most had failed before. For those looking to harness the same tenacity and insight in our lives, here are some more bits of wisdom from the boy who harnessed the wind.

1. “Don’t insult me today just because I’m poor, you don’t know what my future holds!”

Your present does not determine your future. Don’t judge yourself by your current circumstances. That is not who you are.

2. “If you want to make it, all you have to do is try.” 

Nike said “just do it” but you really don’t have to do. Trying is enough. Just try.

3. “Thinking of them reminds me of a quote I read recently from the great Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. that says, ‘If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl.” We must encourage those still struggling to keep moving forward.” 

Keep going forward, no matter what.

4. “The pictures in the library book had provided the idea, hunger and darkness had given me the inspiration, and I’d set out myself on this long, amazing journey.” 

Let adversity inspire you not defeat you. Use your pain to mold yourself into something better. Harness adversity into a bigger dream.

5. “So many things around you are reusable. Where others see garbage, I see opportunity.” 

Seek opportunity everywhere. Use the discarded. Upcycle the rejected. Create magic from trash.

6. “Dr. Mary Atwater’s story was so inspiring. Growing up, Dr. Atwater had a dream to one day be a teacher. But as a black person in the American South during the 1950s, she didn’t have many great educational opportunities. It didn’t help that she was also a girl, and a girl who loved science, since many believed that science was a subject only for men. Well, like me, she didn’t listen to what others said.”

Ignore haters. They have always been there and will always be there. From envy to stupidity, there is no shortage of reasons why people try to discourage others. Their words only have as much power as you allow them to.

7. “Think of your dreams and ideas as tiny miracle machines inside you that no one can touch. The more faith you put into them, the bigger they get, until one day they’ll rise up and take you with them.”

Let your dreams propel you. Anyone who has overcome great adversity will tell you it was a dream that kept them going. Hold on tight and rise above it all.

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Loukia Papadopoulos is the former program director for the Clean Energy Business Council. In addition, Loukia has had a long career in journalism and the not-for-profit sector which included roles with the United Nations Momentum for Change, Leo Burnett and Al Arabiya English. She holds a D.E.C. in Pure and Applied Sciences from Marianopolis College, a B.A. in Communications and a M.Sc. in Geography, Urban and Environmental Sciences from Concordia University.

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