OLPC Case Study in Malawi

William Kamkwamba, a man from Malawi was only fourteen when he built his first windmill powering his family’s home. Having only completed primary school, which ends at the eighth grade, William was able to look at pictures of wind turbines in an American book from his primary school’s library called Using Energy, and build a windmill out of “a broken bicycle, tractor fan blade, old shock absorber, and blue gum trees” (Williamkamkwamba.typepd.com). He was able to harness the energy from the wind to power light bulbs and mobile cell phones. After building his first windmill, he went on to build more windmills to bring electricity to his village for various uses. William went on to learn how to build solar powered systems, as well.
When One Laptop Per Child came to his village, the children were able to power their laptops because of him and his work. He created a system at the Wimbe Primary school which not only powered the laptops but allowed the students to be able to read at night (from having light!).

Malawi is a nation struggling with ICT development. With innovators like William Kamkwamba, Malawi has a chance to develop in its own way with ICT projects. The problem is that had William not developed those systems, the laptops from OLPC would not be able to operate for long. With this comes the question as to how significant these laptops are in the grand scheme of things in Malawi. Would it make more sense to develop projects like the solar and wind powered projects that William created or to make sure that every child has a laptop?

I think it is fairly clear that electricity is necessary for the laptops to even be considered as a solution; however, with the technology provided by the OLPC perhaps more children will be able to learn as William did and make positive changes in the development of their villages.
On another note, I think William also presents a good argument as to how these laptops can be very important when placed in the hands of a child. If William was able to create a windmill simply by looking at pictures in a book, there is no question that others like him can not only figure out how to use the XO laptops, but also use them to be innovative, as well.

Update on Wimbe School Project




4 responses to “OLPC Case Study in Malawi

  • etherspace

    This case study seems like a very unique situation. William was empowered previous to the arrival of OLPC to make a difference in his village and it was through his ingenuity and creation of infrastructure that OLPC was successful. I see this of an example of why pilot projects tend to succeed while huge projects (like OLPC) tend to fail or at least achieve lass success. Often it is through personal and often local attention that development takes place. Throwing technology at a problem without support and people like William behind it is not s sustainable or effective model.

  • kmurphy318

    This is really awesome, I think its incredible that this boy was able to build wind turbines for his family to power electric in the village. This is incredible, however their are difficulties with electric in so many areas of the world that do not have innovative solutions like this windmill. This seems like one positive outcome to OLPC, but so many have negative experiences. This seems to provide proof that OLPC really does need to consider access to electric.

  • sophiwaterr

    William is certainly an impressive example of cleaver innovation. His sort of technology- wind based power- should be sponsored and circulated around areas lacking energy. If electricity is needed to run the laptops then it seems obvious that before the computers are distributed, the infrastructure must be established. there is no one size fits all, but certainly William’s windmills can work for many other villages. OLPC should send in teams to help build windmills and other types of sustainable energy collection. Infrastructure should be made priority over computer access.

  • wstewar

    It is great to see an innovator whose work has come so far. I don’t know what the weather climate is like in Malawi but in places that commonly have high winds, windmills could be a great source of natural energy. However, I do know that wind power is often unreliable and also generally requires a high number of rotations in order to create much power. However, in this situation, this innovation is definitely an improvement to having no electricity at all.

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