One of my earliest childhood memories was going to the library with my mother. She would bring me there regularly for story hour. I think it was there that I developed an appetite for reading. We would always take out several books and I eagerly anticipated reading them at home.
Those visits are remembered fondly because they were exciting and enjoyable, often introducing me to places and people far away from my provincial hometown. Books catapulted me to the world of imagination, a world that was nurtured throughout my academic career.
Moreover, my mother was an avid reader herself, and I remember that she bought a complete set of the works of Charles Dickens for the home. Raised in an environment where books were treasured, reading classic literature became an aspiration even at a young age.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind tells the true story of William Kamkwamba, a bright boy born in Malawi, Africa, for whom the library is a magical place where his curiosity about science can be explored and satisfied. William has his roots in a family of farmers. The family lives a meager life dependent upon crops that may or may not be harvested. The possibility of famine always exists because of the lack of rain or an abundance of rain, making their economic future always uncertain.
William has a hobby of repairing radios for his friends and spends time in junkyards looking for electrical components. While figuring out how things work, he discovers an idea whereby windmills can create energy to bring up water from underground wells.
But there is a problem. He is asked to leave the school because his parents cannot pay the tuition. Denied access to the school’s library, he privately asks a teacher for a key to the library. Indeed, he needs its resources in order to develop his windmill theory. He surmises that building an electric water pump will enable people to transport underground water to the surface.
After constructing a prototype, William wants to build a larger windmill. This requires cannibalizing moving parts from his father’s bicycle, which essentially will destroy the bicycle. Father and son love one another, but their love is tested when William requests his father to give him the bicycle, his only means of transportation. Both understand that it will not be returned to his father as William has found it.
The library is key to William’s acquisition of knowledge. It gives him access to books, which give him the know-how to build the water pump, thus avoiding famine and giving the gift of life to his family and his neighbors.
The library with its storehouse of books encourages problem-solving and curiosity. Moreover, in the view of educators, the school library is the center of the cultural and social life of the school, providing reading of all kinds, access to information, knowledge building, and opportunities for deep thinking.
Jews throughout the ages have understood the value of book learning and the supreme importance of the beit midrash, the communal study hall and library where books are stored and studied. Rabbi Benjamin Blech writes: “ We are known as the people of the book. We were the first people to mandate literacy for every child and lifelong study for every adult. Jews didn’t get the genius from their genes; they made study a central feature of their faith and passed on their love of learning to their children.”
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a testament to the value of book learning and what it can do to enhance the lives of those who use the acquisition of knowledge to improve society. The film reminds us that in the midst of despair, knowledge and wisdom can help us transcend an unpleasant reality.