In November of 2006, officials from the Malawi Teacher Training Activity come to inspect the library at Wimbe Primary School and notice William’s windmill. Mrs. Sikelo tells them that William built it, and the officials call back to their boss, Dr. Hartford Mchazime. Dr. Mchazime comes to Wimbe and asks William to explain how he built the windmill and wired his house with electricity. Dr. Mchazime tells Trywell and Agnes that William is an amazing boy for being able to do all this with little formal education, and warns them that a lot more people are going to be interested in William.
While the threat of government inspections kept William out of Kachokolo school when he did not have the money for school fees, this visit of government officials is a huge benefit for William’s future. Dr. Mchazime becomes a determined advocate for William, bringing his story to far more people than William would ever have been able to help in his village.
Dr. Mchazime returns to Wimbe the next week with a famous Malawian radio journalist, who interviews William about his windmill and his dreams for the future of Malawi. More journalists from the radio and newspapers follow. Dr. Mchazime explains that he wants William to get a lot of attention so that William has a chance to go to school the way so many brilliant rural Malawians cannot. Dr. Mchazime himself only received a rigorous Western education because his own father grew up in poverty and never got the chance to go to school. Dr. Mchazime’s father worked twice as hard to send his own children to school in Malawi, America, Britain, and South Africa.
After putting his voice on the radio through transmitter experiments, William now has the chance to share his story on the radio through the official channels. William’s struggle to get an education and improve his life mirrors the story of many Malawians, who do whatever they can to go to school and widen their horizons. Dr. Mchazime specifically receives a Western education that gives him the opportunity to travel and see Malawi’s potential to be as successful as other countries around the world.
The Kamkwamba family excitedly gathers around the radio when William’s interview airs, and celebrates the publications of his newspaper articles. The whole village reassesses its opinion of William’s windmill and shows pride for William’s effort. William gets to work improving his windmill with a taller, sturdier tower, while Dr. Mchazime does what he can to get William a scholarship to a good Malawian boarding school. Many schools are interested in William, but refuse to admit him because he is older than the average student. Dr. Mchazime calls everyone he knows, until officials from the Ministry of Labor promise to find this talented boy a place in a specialized science school.
The increased visibility of William’s story through the media benefits William by earning back the trust of the community after the magic scare during the last famine. Yet though William is given more opportunities because of this attention, gaining an education is still an uphill battle at the government-funded school in Malawi. Dr. Mchazime appeals to the Ministry of Labor, showcasing how William’s talents could eventually be used to help the entire country if he is given the proper schooling.
Meanwhile, William’s story is spreading farther than he ever dreamed. A Malawian software engineer named Soyapi Mumba at Baobab Health, an American NGO that works to update and computerize Malawi’s health care system, notices William’s article in the Daily Times. Mumba’s boss, American Mike McKay, writes about William on his blog Hacktivate and brings William to the attention of Emeka Okafor, a Nigerian blogger and entrepreneur who is planning a conference called TEDGlobal 2007. With Dr. Mchazime’s help, William applies to be a fellow at TEDGlobal – a conference focused on the best new ideas in Technology, Entertainment, and Design.
The increased globalization offered by the internet helps William’s story reach a wider audience. It is significant that William’s journey is shared on a blog written in English, because more people world-wide speak English than the Malawian Chichewa language. TEDGlobal is an effort to bring the newest advancements in technology to more of the world’s developing countries, based on their mission statement of educating the public with “ideas worth spreading.”
In January, William hears that he has been chosen as a TEDGlobal 2007 fellow and will go present his windmill project to other scientists and inventors in Arusha, Tanzania. William is amazed that he will be traveling by plane and staying in a hotel, but Dr. Mchazime has more good news: William is going back to school.
The thought of traveling on a plane and staying in a hotel is almost beyond what William ever dreamed for himself, yet he is possibly more excited about the prospect of going back to school. Even in the midst of TEDGlobal’s exciting opportunities, William stays focused on his education.
William’s new school, Madisi Secondary, is not a science-oriented school, but it will serve William well and help him catch up all the years of school he missed. William packs everything he owns and says goodbye to Geoffrey and Gilbert, making them promise to take care of his windmill. William travels to the small town of Madisi and is amazed at the well-kept state of the Madisi Secondary School building, with real desks, fluorescent lights, and an actual chemistry lab for science class.
Despite William’s focus on education, he still has an uphill battle to overcome the years of school that he missed in his rural upbringing. The bar for a “good school” is very low for Malawian students, including the bare minimum of things that would be considered essential for an American school to remain functional.
Though Madisi Secondary is in better shape than Wimbe Primary, it is still struggling to find funds for new supplies in the chemistry lab, new books, and adequate rooms for all of the students. William shares a cramped room with another boy who never washes his feet, and he is teased for his age and rural upbringings. William puts an end to the teasing by showing the other students an article about his windmill, impressing the other students with his scientific knowledge. William is incredibly happy to be back at school, but spends most of his time studying alone to keep his mind off of loneliness and missing his family.
The gap between average schools in Malawi and average schools in most of America and Europe shows how far Malawi still needs to go to reach the success enjoyed by those countries. Kamkwamba sees education as one of the best ways to increase conditions across the board in a country, especially opening up access to all students regardless of their background. William has to show how hard he has worked to get to school in order to be accepted by the other boys who had a slightly easier journey to get into this secondary school.
Dr. Mchazime continues to plan the trip to Arusha for William, securing a passport, explaining the etiquette for staying in a hotel and the rules of traveling on an airplane, and buying William new clothes to wear at the conference. That June, William stops home to say hello and goodbye to his parents, then drives to Lilongwe to catch his flight. Through a stroke of luck, William is seated next to Soyapi Mumba on the plane and gets the chance to meet the man who helped William get to the TEDGlobal meeting in the first place.
Gaining an education takes on the new aspect of learning how to navigate a more urban environment as William goes to the TEDGlobal conference. The connections made between people like William and Soyapi is one of the biggest goals of TED meetings, and another sign of how William needs the support of many people in order to be successful on a grander scale.