The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kambewamba
Book Review by Cindy Bohn of Digging Up Bohns
In the LDS Church, we are encouraged to fast for two consecutive meals on the first Sunday of every month. It's not just 'going hungry' - we are to ask for spiritual help with something, or to bless someone else, and to pray for an increased measure of the Spirit as we fast. Then we take the money we would have spent on those meals and donate it to the Church for the support of the poor in our area. I must admit that I am not great about following this practice. We have always been faithful in the payment of our fast offerings, donating as much as we could, much more than the cost of the food itself, whenever we can. But the going without food part is hard for me.
This weekend I grabbed a library book that will forever change how I look at the fast. It's called "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind," by William Kambewamba. William grew up in the African nation of Malawi, the son of a farmer. His family would grow maize, or corn, and tobacco every year, milling the food they needed for themselves and using the money they earned to provide for their needs for the year. One year they had planted their maize, as usual, but the rains didn't come. For weeks the crop struggled along, with the seeds barely breaking through the soil. Then the rains came, but all at once. The seeds were washed away in a flood. William's family planted again, but they couldn't afford fertilizer and the crop didn't have enough time to grow before the harvest. The entire nation was affected.
His family got their pitiful harvest of grain milled, one bag at a time, but they had only five bags to last them all year. At first, they hoped that the government would come through with the food they needed. But instead, corrupt officials sold what grain they could and the surplus disappeared. So people starved. When the grain was almost gone, the hungry people took the husks of the corn, the green part I throw away every time I cook corn, and ground that up and ate it. When it began to run out, they mixed the husks with sawdust and ate that. They ate the leaves of the pumpkin vines. They even ate the seed corn, scrubbing off as much insecticide as they could. William's family saved their seed corn, but they were down to a tablespoon of food or so a day. Then it was time to plant. With their bellies aching from hunger, and sometimes too dizzy to stand and temporarily blinded, they found the strength to plant their seeds. And then they prayed. The rains came, and the people had food again.
As I read William's story, and his desperate attempts to gain an education and break this cycle of subsistence farming, I found myself thinking about my cupboard full of food. All those stories of 'children starving in Africa' and how I needed to clean my plate ran through my head. And yet, what would William have done with my breakfast cereal, my mashed potatoes and meat loaf, my tuna casserole? They wouldn't have even known what it was, much less how to cook it. Their special Christmas treat was rice and meat.
Last night I prepared for my fast today with a completely different attitude. It wasn't that by fasting I could somehow bless those who are hungry in tiny nations across the world. It wasn't even that I could somehow alleviate the hunger of those in this country. It was because I needed to remember that food is a blessing, that I am lucky to have enough to eat. If we run out of food and money again, I know that I can count on my church, on my government, on my family. The stores have plenty of food. But over the history of the world, most people were not that lucky. So my fast becomes an act of gratitude that I am blessed, and a reminder that I need to help others who are not so lucky.
This was an amazing book. William's father ran out of money so could not pay for his son's education. William had to quit school and go to work on the farm. He tried to keep up with what his classmates were learning and found the local library. There he found books on electricity, physics, and energy. He decided to build a windmill. He scrounged parts from the junkyard, took apart radios and engines, and got help from his friends, but he succeeded. He was able to use his windmill to provide energy for little light bulbs in his house so he could see to read at night. Soon word of his project got out and he attracted the attention of journalists and scientists. They helped him make his windmill stronger and safer, dig a well so his family could have clean water, replace his grass roof with a tin one, and provide electricity for his entire village. It is an amazing story of determination and triumph over adversity that will inspire anyone. And it changed the way I look at what I have. I have a cupboard full of food, clean water with the turn of the faucet, a sturdy house, electricity and heating, a way to keep myself and my clothing clean. I am not afraid of soldiers with guns taking what I have. I can send my children to school for free. I can go to the doctor when I am sick.
I am blessed. And I need to remember that.