The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
They say that change is the only unchanging reality in our world – yet, often they fail to tell us of its impact on the weak and the most vulnerable – the changes brought about by globalisation being a good illustration. The bandwagon of ‘fast development’, in its various flavours and manifestations has been rolling on across communities around the globe for the past century or more. And when the trumpeters have moved on and the dust settled on the giant, all-consuming gale of ‘change for development’, the balance sheet usually reveals a long list of lives that have been forcefully displaced and communities, irreplaceably altered.
¨The boy who harnessed the wind” is a Netflix original drama written and directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor based on the true story of William Kamkwamba, chronicling the struggles and triumphs of William in a world mostly driven and dictated by power, money and exploitation of the poor.
William is a young schoolboy – son of Trywell and Agnes, living in the small village of Wimbe in Malawi, with his family that includes his older sister and baby brother. William has a passion for electronics, repairing the radios of his friends and neighbours in free time, as well as scouring the local junkyard regularly for electronic components that could be salvaged and reused. Though Trywell is an extremely hardworking and upright farmer, often his work and returns is at the mercy of nature – his crops during some years destroyed by floods, or at other times by drought. Powerless, cornered and with no help forthcoming, Tryell has long been a witness to the might of the encroaching multi-national tobacco company, which has been buying land from farmers all around, cutting down trees causing landslides, flooding and irreparable changes to the topography. Through all these struggles, Trywell and Agnes has an unshakeable faith in God, that they can overcome and has high hopes of sending their children to University and helping them make it big in life.
Though William is good in studies and has an insatiable thirst for science and technology, soon he is expelled from school as Trywell is unable to pay the school fees. Ingenious as he is, William finds a way to attend science classes and read books from the school library. During the mid-2000s, as the drought becomes prolonged and severe, famine spreads through Malawi causing widespread riots and looting. With the corrupt Government not doing much to help the communities, Trywell’s family is left to fend for itself, and is robbed of whatever little food reserves they had. With life dealing one body blow after another, giving him little manoeuvring space, Trywell stares into the abyss not knowing how or what to make out of the ill-fate that seems to have befallen him and his family.
Having read about generating electricity with a windmill in one of the library books, William makes a prototype of a windmill, which produces enough power to run a radio. William wants to build a full-scale windmill at his home, which he hopes would be able to produce enough electricity to power a motor that can then be used to irrigate their crops. The rest of the movie narrates his struggles to convince the people around him – especially his dad, to trust a 12 year old with their lives, as they oscillate between hunger and despair, gazing face to face with the impending reality of death.
Beautiful as it is, the movie is also a poignant reminder of what many communities unknowingly lose in its pursuit of a better life. This is not to say that progress and development are not be pursued – no. But all too often, the reality of human sinfulness and evil makes our pursuits soul-less, with the question “what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul”, reverberating aloud for all who have ears to hear!