This past year, my 7th grade social studies class read William Kamkwamba’s book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Hope” as a way to teach state history via comparison and contrast. The book is availalable in both a picture format and a book that is appropriate for readers with a lexile range that ranges from 850-920.  I love the resilience that William and his family have, when so many people might be tempted just to give up. My goal, then, was to help students realize that life in Iowa and life in Malawi have a lot in common.  At first, the kids scoffed.  

“No way.  Those people have termites and chickens.”  The closest chicken plant is less than an hour away, and Orkin promos talk about the need to keep pests under control in America.

“They don’t have running water or electricity.” Then again, in high-poverty districts, I am told some students regularly don’t have water service. Homelessness is a real situation.

Free lunch

“They almost starved to death during a drought.”  One in six Americans is food insecure. That includes 14% of the people in my state. William’s family was especially hard-hit during summer, before the corn is ripe.  My district provides free breakfast and lunch five days/week during summer to meet the need.

“With the money my mother earned from selling cakes, my father cut a deal with Mangochi and bought one pail of maize. My mother took it to the mill, saved half the flour for us, and used the rest for more cakes. We did this every day, taking enough to eat and selling the rest. It was enough to provide our one blob of nsima each night, along with some pumpkin leaves. It was practically nothing, yet knowing it would be there somehow made the hunger less painful.   “As long as we can stay in business,” my father said, “we’ll make it through. Our profit is that we live.” 

“All they eat is white corn.”  We watched parts of King Corn and tried to imagine an American diet without the yellow version of the maize plant.  Hint: it’s almost impossible.

We asked if we could live without the Internet, or if school should be mandatory, as it is for most US children.  We created geographical markers with Google Maps and compared latitude, longitude, and climate.

William is a maker.  Are you makers, I asked them?

“I didn’t have a drill, so I had to make my own. First I heated a long nail in the fire, then drove it through a half a maize cob, creating a handle. I placed the nail back on the coals until it became red hot, then used it to bore holes into both sets of plastic blades.” 

We built windmills using a prototype adapted from KidWind from a local university. and the students were surprised at the challenge.  We looked at bike gears and dynamos.  Students converted currrency from the US to Malawian kwacha, read about roasted mice, and made nsima, a corn dish eaten at each meal as a primary protein source.

You know, kids in Africa might have a lot in common with kids in Iowa after all.

Marcia Powell is embarking on a #globaled reading adventure this summer.  She hopes to review one book per week and share it with others as a springboard for new ideas for the next school year.  If you’ve read this book, please consider sharing how you used the material to help students make connections to others.





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