Many of William’s inventions are focused on helping people survive and thrive in Malawi and Africa at large. He sees survival as a business where difficulties must be balanced out with ingenuity and hard work. Malawi’s farmers, though incredibly hard-working, are stuck in a vicious cycle wherein they barely survive each year and are unable to plan or save for the future. William wants to disrupt the damaging equation of work and loss that leaves his community with nothing and help them find a surplus.
While growing up on a farm in the Wimbe district of Malawi and watching his mother Agnes stretch food for many meals, William saw how a farmer must carefully calculate the crops they expect and look forward to the next season of crops even when times are hard at the moment. He also sees how the rich traders and government officials in Malawi use the close margins of the farmers’ livings to cheat them for greater profits. William then wants to put power back in the hands of the farmers, by using his inventions and education to break the dependency that Malawian farmers have on the government or traders for commodities such as electricity, water pumps, fertilizer, and other goods.
The survival equation affects everyone in rural Malawi, but not everyone bands together to survive. Some have a win-or-lose mentality that causes them to steal from others or push others out of the way in times of hardship. William learns from his family, especially his father Trywell, that people must come together in times of trouble so that everyone can survive. The survival of one person is not a zero-sum equation that requires another person to die. It is a combined effort that will help all people thrive. Yet the book does not suggest that it is anyone’s responsibility to freely give other people the means of survival. Everyone must contribute or work in some way for his or her individual survival. To some extent, William’s parents provide their children with the base requirements for survival and leave William and his siblings to their own devices to make sure that they get everything they need. William suggests that as long as everyone is working towards a better future for Malawi, the business of survival will become less about barely making it by and more about thriving. The collective efforts of many Malawians can balance the survival equation so that the communities can save up a surplus and mitigate the potential devastation of a bad crop or poor government management.
The Business of Survival ThemeTracker
The Business of Survival Quotes in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
“We know this man has left behind some riches, and these treasures include his kids. We'd like to advise his brothers to take full control of these children. Make sure they finish their secondary education as they would have if their father had been alive. And in regards to the material wealth, we don't want to hear of troubles in the family as a result. If anyone here wants to help this family, help the children with clothing and school fees.”
Nsima isn't just an important part of our diet—our bodies depend on it the same way fish need water. If a foreigner invites a Malawian to supper and serves him plates of steak and pasta and chocolate cake for dessert, but no nsima, he'll go home and tell his brothers and sisters, “there was no food there…”
We call this period “the hungry season.” In the countryside, people are working the hardest they work all year to prepare their fields, but doing so with the least amount of food. Understandably, they grow thin, slow and weak.
One pail equaled twelve meals for my family, meaning six pails equaled seventy-two meals for twenty-four days. I then counted how many days before the next harvest: more than two hundred and ten…
Several large pieces of skin remained in the pot, and I thought about my sisters and parents who were at home, probably hungry and dreaming of meat on this Christmas Day. But I didn't dare ask Charity to allow me to share. It was a well-known rule that whatever happened in mphala stayed in mphala.
My parents never scolded Rose for taking more than her share. But Doris soon reached her breaking point. Over the past weeks she'd become paranoid, fearing she wouldn't get any food at supper and my parents wouldn't help her.
My own problems didn't seem so important; the hunger belonged to the entire country. I decided to put faith in my father's word, that once we made it through the hunger, everything would be okay.
At least with daughters, like my sister Annie, a father can hope they'll marry a husband who can provide a home and food, even help them continue their schooling. But with a boy it's different. My education meant everything to my father.