Over the past week, I came across two stories of two teenagers who battled the odds to bring innovative solutions to problems plaguing their communities.
The first is of William Kamkwamba, from Masitala, Malawi. At the age of 14, when he was forced to leave school because his family didn’t have the money to pay for his education, he built a windmill. He saw the picture in a book in the village library and used materials he found in a scrap yard to build the electricity-generating structure.
At the time Kamkwamba could barely understand English and mainly relied on diagrams to learn about sciences. At the time Malawi was hit by a famine that brought his village and his family to the brink of starvation.
Now at the age of 22, after receiving funds to finish his secondary education and helping build other windmills in his village, Kamkwamba has chronicled his journey in the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind with the help of journalist Bryan Mealer. Kamkwamba is now studying for his SAT to continue his education in the US.
The second story is of Babar Ali, a 16-year-old from Murshidabad in West Bengal, India. Ali is dubbed by BBC as the world’s youngest headmaster. Being one of the privileged few in his village to receive an education, Ali has decided since age 9 to share this privilege.
Every day after returning from school, he teaches other kids in the village, who can’t afford schooling, what he had learnt earlier in the day. Over the years, this project has sprawled to include 800 kids of all ages, sometimes illiterate adults, and 10 other student-teachers. The make shift school is Ali’s family’s backyard.
Here’s a link to the BBC story, part of the Hunger to Learn series.
It’s this evident ‘hunger to learn’ that was so inspiring in both stories. Kamkwamba wasn’t deterred by his family’s inability to pay for his education when he was 14. In India, 800 kids are seeking an education – not a degree – by going to this makeshift school, usually after a long day of work, thanks to an initiative by 16-year-old Ali.