“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” a film showing at theaters in Japan, is set in the Republic of Malawi.

Although the southeastern African nation has remained peaceful and free of civil war, its social infrastructure is still far from developed.

The film follows the story of William Kamkwamba, who built a wind turbine of his own design and brought electricity to his village when he was a teenager.

According to the 32-year-old innovator, who recently visited Japan, a dry spell would destroy corn, the village’s staple crop, bringing famine.

A severe drought forced him to drop out of middle school at age 14 as his family could no longer afford his tuition.

He continued to educate himself by frequenting the village’s modest library, where he learned the basics of power generation from a book.

He went on to collect discarded power cables and chains from local dumps and built a large windmill, undaunted by the occasional electric shocks and injuries he suffered during the process.

His wind turbine worked as expected, pumping well water to irrigate the fields for successful crop production.

Kamkwamba said it hurt his feelings when villagers said he was shirking farm work and scavenging the dumps.

Still, he added that the village changed with the electricity produced by a 14-year-old.

At the time, electricity was available to a mere 2 percent of the entire nation. Today, the figure has risen to 10 percent.

It is hard for us Japanese to imagine what it is like to live in a country with an on-grid rate of only 10 percent because we have long taken electricity for granted, just like air.

However, that mentality changed with the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. Today, we ask ourselves more frequently whether the electricity we are using comes from a thermal or nuclear power plant.

Kamkwamba taught me how to say “wind,” “water” and “the sun,” all natural sources of electricity, in his native language. They are, respectively, “mphepo,” “madzi” and “dzuwa.”

The boy who harnessed “mphepo” spoke passionately of the importance of never giving up one’s dream.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 10

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.