Tuesday, October 06, 2009
If this story (HT: Dismuke) doesn't turn the saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention," on its head, it should at least cause people to reconsider what the term "necessity" means in the context of man's nature as a rational animal. (Hint: Bare physical survival is not enough.)
... Kamkwamba, who grew up in Masitala, a tiny rural farming village off the grid in Malawi, was 14 years old in 2001 when he spotted a photo of a windmill in a U.S. textbook one day. He decided to make one, hacking together a contraption from strips of PVC pipe, rusty car and bicycle parts and blue gum trees.I highly recommend reading the whole article. Back before people started describing the daily calamities of the Bush and Obama Administrations as "something out of Atlas Shrugged," I recall a similar phrase used to complement heroic people like Kamkwamba: "He sounds like he stepped right out of an Ayn Rand novel." In this case, two of them come to mind: Atlas and Anthem. The second did especially when I read of the time Kamkwamba's "witchcraft" started getting the blame for a drought.
Though he ultimately had big designs for his creation, all he really wanted to do initially was power a small bulb in his bedroom so he could stay up and read past sunset.
But one windmill has turned into three, which now generate enough electricity to light several bulbs in his family's house, power radios and a TV, charge his neighbors' cellphones and pump water for the village's fields and household use.
Now 22, Kamkwamba wants to build windmills across Malawi and perhaps beyond. Next summer he also plans to construct a drilling machine to bore 40-meter holes for water and pumps. His aim is to help Africans become self-sufficient and resolve their problems without reliance on foreign aid.
On reading this, I started wondering things like, "What could someone like this accomplish in the developed West?" "Would someone like this even be possible in the West today, given how well-insulated from things like the tyranny of sunset so many of us are and how poorly people are taught about the role of technology in improving our lives?"
But this story answers that second question in the affirmative just about on its own. Men have free will. Some have an indomitable thirst for knowledge and the power that goes with it. Some men are not afraid to overcome the paltry limits placed on them by untamed nature or to stand alone against derision and crowds of second-handers. No one is determined by his surroundings, be they grinding poverty and superstition or opulence and indolence. One can always choose to think for himself.
If you think I'm just gushing, go read the story and check that premise when you're done. You can thank me later for the inspiration.
No. Scratch that. Thank Kamkwamba.
Today: Clay points to this video of Kamkwamba himself speaking. Unsurprisingly, the young man is engaging and humorous.