Teens Recount How They Are Making a Difference
William Kamkwamba and Talia Leman answer questions during their Auditorium Speaker Series presentation, “Teens Make a Difference,” on Saturday.
“How can we do something greater than we know how to do? How can we become someone greater than we know how to be?” Talia Leman asked the audience at Saturday afternoon’s Auditorium Speaker Series presentation, “Teens Making a Difference.”
Sharing the stage with William Kamkwamba, the 16-year-old philanthropist is the founder of RandomKid, a nonprofit organization designed to engage and mobilize kids for global action and relief. At the age of 10, Leman initiated a “Trick or Treat” fundraiser on behalf of victims of Hurricane Katrina. After a “random” producer at NBC’s Today Show spotted a “random” picture she’d posted of her naysayer little brother, the two children were invited for an interview and her efforts quickly took off and netted over $10 million raised by kids nationwide.
Through her website, RandomKid, she and her team harness youth power and innovation to allow kids to participate directly in funding a wide variety of global relief projects—everything from planting organic gardens at homeless shelters to building fresh water wells to replacing single-use disposable bottles with reusable ones. Well-spoken beyond her years, the 16 year old described eloquently how belief in “the possibility” is all that is needed to get started. “Make room for the unexpected things,” she said, “and passions that don’t make sense at first.”
Sharing in this belief in innovation was William Kamkwamba, author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. Growing up in Malawi in central Africa, the soft-spoken and deferential Kamkwamba knew that pursuing an education offered the best way out of the day-to-day struggles of subsistence farming, poverty, and the superstitious beliefs of his community.
When a drought in 2001 forced his family into a crisis and the $80 for his tuition had to be used for other purposes, Kamkwamba left school. Despite these hurdles, Kamkwamba pursued his own education in the local library where he combed through science textbooks, teaching himself engineering and learning English by deciphering captions on photographs. A drawing of a windmill provided the inspiration for Kamkwamba to design and build a series of windmills that brought not just electricity to his community but also the hope for a different future. With the help of the librarian and other visitors to his village, his efforts drew the attention of the attention of TEDGlobal, among others, which have helped bring his vision to fruition. In his memoir (also available in a picture book format) Kamkwamba shares his vision of “a new kind of Africa, a place of leaders instead of victims, a home of innovation instead of charity.” He is currently a fellow at Dartmouth College where he continues his studies in engineering.