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The Potential in our Kids
A week ago I read probably the most inspiring story I have ever seen on the internet. Seriously.

Teenager William Kamkwamba from Malawi quit school at 14 because his family could not afford the school fees. You can read the story here, but let me summarize.

He lived in a tiny village of a few dozen families, all of whom existed on subsistence agriculture. They had no electricity, and so everybody went to bed with the sun, at 7.

Being a typical teenager, he was bored. He didn't want to go to bed at 7. He wanted to stay up and read. So one day he walked to a nearby village that had a library, and he found two books that interested him: one was on electricity, and one was on physics or something. The electricity book had a picture of all these windmills on the front cover, and after reading the books, he decided to build himself a windmill so that he could power a lightbulb so he could read at night.

And over the next two months, this 14-year-old boy built a windmill. He collected parts from wherever he could find them, and the part that actually turned the windmill was from an old bicycle. In the article, they describe his foraging and design this way:

He then attached the long plastic blades to the shorter metal blades of a large tractor fan found in a dumpyard, and stripped out the piston from a large shock absorber to serve as the windmill shaft. To secure the plastic blades to the metal ones, he used proper nuts and bolts. But standing in for washers were 16 Carlsberg beer bottle caps, collected from outside the Ofesi Boozing Centre.

The dynamo, connected to a hand-crafted transformer, was sufficient to power a 12-volt battery that fed a current to a small light in his bedroom, where he fashioned an outlet and push button wall switch using the AC socket from a radio, copper wire, a plastic wall mount made from flattened PVC pipe and parts from a rubber flip-flop.

Necessity, as they always say, is the mother of invention.

That was a few years ago. He has since made two more windmills, enough to light several lightbulbs in their house, power their radio, but most importantly, power their water pump so they can irrigate their fields. They've now planted more and different crops, and the village is prospering. And it has a happy story for William himself. There's a great video at the site, too. You really need to see it.

What did all of this teach me? It told me that when you have a teen who is sufficiently motivated, has time on his or her hands, and has access to information, he or she can do basically anything.

But we need those three things: motivation + time + information.

Do our kids have that?

Let's start with motivation. I'm a firm believer in the importance of motivation. I think it's more important than raw intelligence in terms of whether or not a person will succeed in life. But children won't have motivation if everything in their lives is given to them with little effort. They have to be encouraged to try, and see the rewards at the other end. They have to learn the value of hard work, and that means that not everything in their lives can be easy.

What about time? This kid built a windmill because he had nothing else to do. He was working at his father's fields, but that didn't take that much time. And he didn't have to go to school. Our children don't have much down time anymore. We fill their lives with lessons and play dates and homework and activities, and so it's little wonder that children fail to explore. Most of the great inventors, composers, and thinkers had lots of spare time. We need to build "nothing" into our children's schedules, even if that means cancelling lessons.

But one of the best ways to build "nothing" in is to turn off the television. When kids are too invested in technology or video games, they don't have time. So limit technology if you want your children's brains to fly.

Finally, we come to information. That's one thing our kids do have in abundance. William, after he built his windmills, was discovered by some journalists and eventually flown to the U.S. to see windmill farms in action and go on a speaking tour. While there, he was exposed to the internet for the first time. Now he wants to bring electricity into all these villages just so people can get on the internet. Imagine how much easier it would have been for him to build his windmill if he had had the internet! As it was, he had no plans. He just had pictures he tried to copy. It worked, but he was amazed at what was out there on the world wide web.

Our kids have the information. They have more information more easily than at any other time in history. It is a shame, a tragedy, a crime that they don't also have motivation and time. Imagine what this generation could do if they did!

To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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At 12:49 PM , Blogger Fruitful Vine2 said…

Wow! That is simply amazing. Great lesson to learn. I need to write that formula down. Thanks for sharing this Sheila.


At 7:18 AM , Blogger Lorrie said…

Ironic that I just read the article this morning and then received a newsletter from Amazon with a book about this young man. "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope" by William to the library!!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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