Throughout the book, William focuses on the way that new life can come from things that were seemingly useless or even dead. He applies the concepts of rebirth and recycling to objects in his village, the Malawian landscape, and the people of Malawi. This principle of rebirth and recycling is most visible in William’s windmill, which is made up of spare parts and old materials that others threw away. William sees the potential in the items to become something useful once more, a practice that he repeats with many other inventions and prototypes. These recycled inventions give new life to his village by introducing labor-saving technologies and drawing the attention of important Malawian figures who can provide the education and funding necessary to revitalize the villages in the district of Wimbe.
Rebirth is a natural part of life in Malawi, due to the seasonal cycles that create dormant hunger seasons and renewed harvest seasons each year. When this cycle of rebirth is exacerbated by a country-wide drought, William and his family continue to work their land, though it seems useless, because they can envision the new life that will eventually come from their hard work. Those who do not follow the cycle of “death” and “rebirth” in the countryside are left with nothing when the famine ends. Furthermore, William’s father, Trywell, reinvents his occupation as a farmer during the famine, becoming a businessman and a trader to keep his family from starving. Reinvention is necessary in Malawi to pull through the difficult times, and William even suggests that the people who go through this hard process of rebirth can come out stronger on the other side.
William constantly looks for opportunities to reinvent himself, and use his inventions to bring a new way of thinking to all of Malawi. William’s reinvention is mainly seen in his academic pursuits, as William adapts to his new schools and surroundings in Malawi, other parts of Africa, and America. William seems to get his flexible and optimistic outlook on life from Trywell, who was able to leave behind a reputation for drinking and fighting in order to become a dependable father, husband, and provider for his family. William also sees potential for a rebirth for the entire country of Malawi. Though corruption in the Malawian government has caused turmoil for decades, William is hopeful that educating the next generation of Malawians and better managing the resources that make Malawi rich can cause Malawi to become a successful country that cares about the well-being of its citizens and helps them prosper.
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention ThemeTracker
Rebirth, Recycling, and Reinvention Quotes in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Although Geoffrey, Gilbert, and I grew up in this small place in Africa, we did many of the same things children do all over the world, only with slightly different materials. And talking with friends I’ve met from America and Europe, I now know this is true. Children everywhere have similar ways of entertaining themselves. If you look at it this way, the world isn’t so big.
We traveled four hours north to the Wimbe trading center, where my relatives were waiting to greet us. They helped us move down the road to Masitala village and into a one-room house near Uncle John.
This is where my father became a farmer and my childhood began.
Since we learned everything through experimenting, a great many radios were sacrificed for our knowledge. I think we had one radio from each aunt and uncle and neighbor, all in a giant tangle of wires we kept in a box in Geoffrey’s room. But after we learned from our mistakes, people began bringing us their broken radios and asking us to fix them.
But bringing electricity to my home would take more than a simple bicycle dynamo, and my family couldn't even afford one of those. After a while I kind of stopped thinking about it altogether and focused on more important things. One of them, for instance, was graduating from primary school.
What is this? I thought. Pulling it out, I saw it was an American textbook called Using Energy, and this book has since changed my life.
The cover featured a long row of windmills - though at the time I had no idea what a windmill was.
Within a few meters, I entered the scrapyard and stopped. Behold! Now that I had an actual purpose and a plan, I realized how much bounty lay before me. There were so many things: old water pumps, tractor rims half the size of my body, filters, hoses, pipes, and plows.
Just then a gust of wind slammed against my body, and the blades kicked up like mad. The tower rocked once, knocking me off balance. I wrapped my elbow around the wooden rung as the blades spun like furious propellers behind my head. I held the bulb before me, waiting for my miracle. It flickered once. Just a flash at first, then a surge of bright, magnificent light. My heart nearly burst.
In Malawi, we say these people are “grooving” through life, just living off small ganyu and having no real plan. I started worrying that I would become like them, that one day the windmill project would lose its excitement or become too difficult to maintain, and all my ambitions would fade into the maize rows. Forgetting dreams is easy. To fight that kind of darkness, I kept returning to the library every week.
Erik wasn’t a biological African (he was raised in Kenya and Sudan), but what he said summed up our crowd perfectly:
“Africans bend what little they have to their will every day. Using creativity, they overcome Africa's challenges. Where the world sees trash, Africa recycles. Where the world sees junk, Africa sees rebirth.”
I took a deep breath and gave it my best. “After I drop out from school, I went to library… and I get information about windmill…” Keep going keep going. . . “And I try and I made it.”
My fellow students and I talk about creating a new kind of Africa, a place of leaders instead of victims, a home of innovation rather than charity. I hope this story finds its way to our brothers and sisters out there who are trying to elevate themselves and their communities, but who may feel discouraged by their poor situation.