Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Education helped brilliant self-taught Malawian the ability to build a windmill from junk and brings power to his village

Challenge with all your might, think ‘out of the box’ and never stop learning. These positive traits have earned praises for Malawian teenager William Kamkwamba who has discovered that education is foundational!

Kamkwamba was a simple farmer who had not seen a computer nor certainly not many white people in his life. But that did not prevent him from pushing boundaries, reaching for the stars – to create his inventions that has made lives better for the people in his village. 

Yet his brilliant inventions were blacked out by the media. Why?   Many of us, awed by Kamkwamba’s creativity and sheer brilliance were stunned that the media had bot accorded due recognition to this young man.  


Bouquets to Ted Talks and Video for airing his story as more and more people who believe in Kamkwamba;s creations have started posting his story.

A little background into this young lad. 

Due to severe famine in 2001, Kamkwamba’s family were so poor that they could not afford to fork out the $80 in annual school fees   That resulted in the teen being forced to drop out of school a few months into his freshman year. For five years he was unable to go to school.

Starting at 14, rather than accept his fate, William started borrowing books from a small community lending library located at his former primary school. He borrowed an 8th-grade American textbook, “Using Energy: which depicted wind turbines on its cover.

He decided to build a windmill to power his family’s home and obviate the need for kerosene, which provided only smoky, flickering, distant and expensive light after dark.

First, he built a prototype using a radio motor, then his initial 5-meter windmill out of a broken bicycle, tractor fan blade, old shock absorber, and blue gum trees. After hooking the windmill to a car battery for storage, William was able to power four light bulbs and charge neighbors’ mobile phones. This system was even equipped with homemade light switches and a circuit breaker made from nails, wire, and magnets. The windmill was later extended to 12 meters to better catch the wind above the trees. A third windmill pumped greywater for irrigation.

It's puzzling that the media has chosen not to publish his story which can so easily inspire those who despite being poor adopt a never-say-die attitude and are prepared to study and beat the odds.

Due to its large outreach, the media can so easily sway people’s thinking and therefore it must highlight powerful stories that can transform lives.  Bear in mind that its IDEAS and PEOPLE that can make a far better world.  You don’t need a string of degrees to shine and what society needs are active citizens who are able to drum up ideas or solutions to solve social problems.

Ideas that can help change lives must never be thrown into the back burner

Like Kamkwamba, I too face challenges over the last year or two with the local mainstream media. 

Asa a social activist who is very much in touch with the ground and one who focusses on finding solutions to growing problems, I often come up with creative solutions that can improve the lives of my countrymen here in Singapore. 

At the end of September 2019, I wrote a letter to a local newspaper proposing a ride-on solution to the government grant of $200 a month to family caregivers.

Open Public Suggestion to the Singapore Government:  Caregiver leave can help family caregivers a great deal


The salient points raised by the writer Dr Kalyani Kirtikar Mehta are valid concerns which our caregivers face in helping their loved ones cope better (Policies must proactively support caregivers, September 28, 2019. The Straits Times).

Caregiving is taxing and a costly affair as most of these caregivers pay a heavy price: Physically, mentally and financially. 

As caregiving is often a 24-hour task, many caregivers have to end of giving up their full-time jobs.  


Therefore, I am sure our tireless caregivers will welcome the move by the Ministry of Health to provide the much-needed Home Caregiving Grant of $200.


An important task for caregivers is to bring their sick loved ones to hospital and clinics on a regular basis. If a caregiver is employed, he/she will have to apply for vacation leave to accompany their loved one for their medical appointment/s.


Therefore, to promote caregiving as a noble task, I urge the policy makers to consider providing a caregiver leave scheme of between 3 to 5 days. 


Dr Kalyani Kirtikar Mehta was spot on when she pointed out that if caregivers are supported by other family members, the community and the government, they are less likely to suffer burnout.


Unfortunately, as caregiving is daunting, most, if not all the time, the caregiver role is often not shared, leaving just one person to handle this unenviable task. It is even more taxing, daunting if any caregiver has to look after a loved one with mental disorders, and I am sure many of our Ministers and Members of Parliament know this only too well. Thus, the support mechanism for caregivers must be put solidly in place and be on-going.


If caregiver leave is implemented, I have every confidence that other family members will step forward and share in caregiving, thereby easing the load of a primary caregiver.

Idea rejected by the press, being considered by the Ministry of Health

Regrettably, my letter was not published even though it was a value -added suggestion. It is an irony that while the press did not see it fitting to publish my letter, when I wrote to the Health Minister at the Ministry of Health (MOH), The reply I received was encouraging. MOH said that they will assess and review my proposal. Now if the caregiver leave is implemented, wouldn’t thousands of our caregivers’ benefit?

High time our journalists are trained to see the merits of good ideas and not take the easy way out by throwing it into the back-burner.


Raymond Anthony Fernando




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