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  • Office Location:
    315 Science Center
  • Mailing Address:
    Clarkson University
    Box 5535
  • Phone: 315/268-4483
08-15-2016

Author William Kamkwamba to Speak on Bringing Electricity to His African Village, Aug. 28 at Clarkson University

William Kamkwamba will deliver the Van Sickle Endowed Lecture as Clarkson University celebrates the start of the 2016-2017 academic year with the annual convocation.

William KamkwambaKamkwamba, author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, will speak at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28, in Cheel Arena. The event is free and open to the public.

He also will attend a reception and book signing preceding the convocation from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Kodak Lounge of the Cheel Campus Center.

Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger, and a place where hope and opportunity were hard to find. But Kamkwamba had read about windmills, and he dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village and change his life and the lives of those around him. His neighbors may have mocked him and called him "misala" -- crazy -- but Kamkwamba was determined to show them what a little grit and ingenuity could do.

Enchanted by the workings of electricity as a boy, Kamkwamba had a goal to study science in Malawi's top boarding schools. But in 2002, his country was stricken with a famine that left his family's farm devastated and his parents destitute. Unable to pay the $80-a-year tuition for his education, William was forced to drop out and help his family forage for food as thousands across the country starved and died.

Yet Kamkwamba refused to let go of his dreams. With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach, a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks, and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to bring his family a set of luxuries that only 2 percent of Malawians could afford and what the West considers a necessity -- electricity and running water. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, Kamkwamba forged a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption and small miracle that eventually powered four lights, complete with homemade switches and a circuit breaker made from nails and wire. A second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine that loomed with every season.

Soon, news of Kamkwamba's "magetsi a mphepo" -- his "electric wind" -- spread beyond the borders of his home, and the boy who was once called crazy became an inspiration to those around the world.

The Kenneth J. and Irla Van Sickle Endowed Lectureship was established in 1992 through generous bequests from the estates of Kenneth and Irla Van Sickle of Shortsville, N.Y. The Van Sickles shared interests in photography, gardening, nature and stamp collecting. During their long and active lives, the Van Sickles were dedicated to hard work, placing great value on education, particularly higher education.

The Massena and Potsdam public libraries also are among the North Country libraries participating in a community read as part of Clarkson's common book project. Residents of the communities have the opportunity to join in with the Clarkson campus to read the same book and meet the author at the convocation.

Ahead of Kamkwamba's visit to Clarkson, the Massena Public Library will facilitate a book discussion group at 7 p.m. on Aug. 23. The library also will host a wind power program at 2 p.m. on Aug. 24, where the community will have an opportunity to learn about and make their own windmills.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/wkamkwamba.jpg .]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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