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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Name: William Kamkwamba

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Age: 22 (born August 5, 1987)

Country: Malawi

Medium: Energy

One of the tragedies that didn’t make the headlines in the U.S changed the life of a young person forever. In 2002, during one of the worst famines to ever hit Malawi, William Kamkwamba dropped out of school, because his parents could no longer pay his school fees. He started visiting the local library, where he eventually taught himself elementary physics.

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When he read about windmills, he connected the knowledge from the books to what his community could benefit from: Energy. After trial and error, he build his own windmill using junkyard parts from a bicycle, old tractor fans, shock absorbers and plastic pipes. His first machine generated enough energy to power 4 lights. The second machine was strong enough to irrigate his family garden.

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He has since spoken around the world, attended conferences and inspired people everywhere. A book just came out about his life, along with a documentary and a foundation.  You can read his blog here.

Read more about him here:

Other people’s comments

The realization that we only have 4 week s left in the fall semester, has come with a mix of happiness and increased anxiety. References to graduation in my classes have gotten more and more poignant. As seniors, we are “facing graduation”, as if we’re “facing the firing squad” or “on the verge of graduation”, like “being on the verge of jumping off a cliff.” And in reality, some days, it feels just like that. Jumping off the cliff of Certainty (or perceived Certainty). Jumping into the unknown with a shrinking safety net. Jumping, full of a level of adrenaline only something as amazing as finishing up a degree can give you, yet scared sh_tless, nonetheless.

Only this fear isn’t ours alone. Our professors remind us every day in class, with every comment followed by “especially, in this economic climate”. Adults shake their heads and say “In all my years, I’ve never seen anything like this”. You can see it from the slow shake of the head what they’re thinking “I sure wouldn’t wanna be you, graduating right now, kid.” The freak-out moments that occured way back in Sophomore year are slowly coming back, “Crap! What am I going to do with my life? Oh, crap! I don’t know the answer to that question.” It’s the feeling you get on a test when you realize that you’ve read every section of your notes, except for that small section that is now worth half your grade on the exam. It’s feeling like you should know, though you have no idea.

In the past week, a few amazing speakers have come to Cornell that just inspired the “heck out of me”. Though their words were eloquent, elegant and elevating, it’s the thought of having a vision such as theirs that inspired me. One speaker, especially, emphasized the fact that most of the things happening as a movement are being organized by people our age.

That led me to ask many questions about those young people. If “especially in this economic climate”, or looking at all the atrocities in the news, there are young people are finding the hope and the motivation to act, I want to know about them. When I started looking around online, or asking my peers, my list started getting longer and longer, richer and richer.

So, I’ll be writing a little bit on these people. Usually young people as defined as being between 15 and 35. I’ll try to keep the list about people under 30. Some are alive, some have passed on. Some have acted because they were inspired, Some have acted because they felt they had no choice. They all act through different mediums and speak to different communities.

Since the rhetoric right now is that we are a more global society, I will be talking about young people from all over the world. There will be a bias toward African youth, because being from the continent, things about Africa hit my radar the fastest, but I promise, it’ll be a very diverse list. There will also be a section on Cornellians, people in our classrooms, who are on their way to acting on our world.

These past weeks have gone on so fast, and time seems to be running so fast, that I’m convinced that somebody’s stealing time. I swear, it’s like I turn around for 5 minutes and the next thing I know 30 minutes are gone. There must be a Time Pirate somewhere, stealing time a little at a time.

Even though things seem to be moving really fast (0nly 4 weeks left of the semester!), I’ve had some wonderful opportunities meeting some pretty cool people (more on that, later), as well as be inspired towards action by many situations.

‘Can’t wait to share them all. I’ve been inspired and I hope I can help others be inspired as well.

So, fall break came and went. I think this is the time when I should be feeling all nostalgic and tagging everything around me as a “last”. So, my LAST fall break as an undergraduate college student. For me, fall break was filled with a line of accidental movie marathons. Accidental, mostly because I have trouble saying “no” to people. It was great nonetheless. I was able to do many of the things I wanted to do, except for applying for Americorps and signing up to take the GRE. Many people are freaking out around me about interviews, GREs, other tests and post-college uncertainty. I feel guilty for not being one of them. I should do those things soon though. I have a feeling I’m gonna regret feeling relaxed right now.

So, instead of spending hours on the bus for a few days, I watched a few movies I’ll talk about later: God is Brazilian (Deos es brasiliero), Ghost of Girlfriends Past, Hot Fuzz, Priceless (Hors de Prix), the House Bunny, etc.

After a coffee-fueled, sleepless week, Fall break is finally here. Which means, we can do whatever we want for 5 days. Well…2 if you discount the weekend. It’s so quiet tonight (on a Friday night?) since most students have decided to go back to mommy and daddy…or at least do a warmer climate. I chose to stay to get my crap together, which basically means learning what I should have learned 2 weeks ago, figuring out when I want to take the GRE, and which step I want to take after Cornell: Americorps, a job or grad school?

Ok…realistically, though, Fall Break is so laid back that actual work rarely gets done. Here’s what I’ve done so far with my free, no-hassles time: ate enough junk food for a roomful of girls having a “we-hate-men” party, caught up on episodes of “How I met your mother” and NCIS, slept in till 1:00 pm and caught on my favorite blogs.

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My wall is covered with sticky notes about what I would like to do before my last Fall Break is over. Here are some of my (ambitious) goals:

1. Take georgous fall pictures all around Ithaca. (Judging by the rainy weather predicted for this week-end, that might be a FAIL)

2. Catch up on the e-mails that I’ve been neglecting

3. Call home, or family members I’ve been meaning to get in touch with

4. Go to a music venue

5. Apply for the GREs

6. Go check out some of the sites around Ithaca

7. Movie marathons with people

8. Do some of the “161 things every Cornellian should do before graduating” like: walking all the 161 steps of the clocktower, eat a pinesburger (what?), see the brain collection in Uris.

As you can see, verrry exciting few days. We’ll see what actually gets done.

I apologize for the long absence. These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activities, of emotions and of….uh…things. Over a short time, my schedule changed, was adjusted, was edited and was changed again. I switched focus in terms of issues I want to study, I was deeply infatuated with someone and lost interest. All things, while trying to figure out what type of legacy I would like to leave after I leave Cornell, as well as the path(s) ahead of me. Needless to say, there’s been no time to blog. Ok, after taking such a long time to explain myself, I’ll move on.

If there’s one thing I learned about myself this week, it’s that: it’s really, really hard to do something that I don’t want to do. Like studying for a subject that doesn’t really passionate me like Economics of Health Policy. I procrastinated so much when I should have been hard at work studying. I procrastinated so much, that I was only able to cover the issues that we talked about over and over in class. Of course, the test had to cover the articles I didn’t look over. 15  points gone just like that!

With Fall Break here, I’m re-thinking my strategies for motivating myself to study for those classes I’m not particularly passionate about. I couldn’t come up with anything until I ran into this post on Study Hacks: The Grade Whisperer: Ron’s Feeble Focus. My favorite quote from the post:

(Wo)Man Up: Finally, you need to recognize that throughout life you’re going to have to do work that you don’t want to do. This is perhaps the defining trait of being an adult. College is as good a time as any to recognize this fact, man up (or woman up, as the case may be), and just do it, even if you don’t want to. You’re not sixteen and living at home anymore…