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There is only one you…


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“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. “
Martha Graham

For a long time I have grappled with who I am and what my work is – especially at this point in my life.  I am drawn to working with story, and with voice, and I also feel strongly that I have skills as a facilitator and a coach.  The conversation within me has been about being one or the other, until I realised that all of this is me – all of this and more, and it is my responsibility to bring this combination of talent, skill and experience into the world.  It is so wonderful to arrive at this place.  May you also find that place, and keep the channel open.

 

Philippa in Maama's dress - laughing

William Kamkwamba – Celebrating the Bold, Audacious, Inspiring, Creative, Passionate, Amazing Africans


Today I salute William Kamkwamba of Malawi – and reflect on some of the beliefs we carry about development, education and poverty. There is often a belief that the people to be ‘developed’ (usually poor, lacking formal education, and in rural areas, or slums or townships) do not know what they want, and because of lack of education and poverty are unable to make a difference.  There is often a belief that if we do not ‘bring development’ to them, they will not be able to make a difference in their own lives.  And a belief that because they do not speak English very well they are not very bright.  William Kamkwamba tells a different story.

   kamkwamba_0001     kamkwamba

In 2010 I was going through the Schiphol airport in the Netherlands when my eye landed on this book.  The title is what attracted me first because it sounded like a myth or legend – and when I read the back of the book I knew I had to buy it – and what an inspiring read (I must also say it is a slow start – but picks up as you go along).

William Kamkwamba was  born in 1987 and grew up in rural Malawi.  When he was about 13, he started taking apart old radios, and putting them back together again, with a friend.  They later began to fix people’s radios for them, and because there was no electricity they would collect old discarded batteries to power the radios.  William was fascinated by how things worked and this led him to discover that the dynamo on a bicycle made electricity to power the light, and he could use it to power a radio (although the pedalling was tiring).   This triggered his desire to create electricity for his home and family – a dream he forgot and then re-discovered later.  In 2000, the year he finished primary school there were floods and a drought, and crops failed.  The villages further away were hit first by the famine and later  spread across the country.  Food became scarce, and very expensive. His father was a farmer, and like many other farmers in that period he lost all his crops.  And his family barely survived the famine.

The following year William learnt that he had passed his primary school exams well enough to go to secondary school.  He started school but had to drop out because his parents did not have the money to pay fees.  They were trying to recover from the damage of the famine.  William was upset about this, but his desire to learn was so strong, he continued to go to the library of a local primary school to read.  There he found a book, ‘Using Energy’, which had pictures of windmills on the cover.  This reawakened his dream to make electricity, and although he could not read very well, he understood the pictures in the book, and used this to guide his project.  In 2002, in spite of all the village thinking he had gone mad, William finished his windmill (using scrap material, and getting favours from people), and it created electricity for his home.

His story, by some strange fate ended up in the national newspapers, and on someone’s blog, and this led to exposure on the TED Africa, and TED Global front.  He was later sponsored, and went back to school – in Malawi, then in Johannesburg.

William is now 24 years old, and studying environmental studies with a minor in engineering at Dartmouth College in the USA. He has, through the help of others, made a water pump for his family (and village), so his father can harvest twice a year, regardless of whether the rains come or not.  He has started an NGO to support primary school he went to in Wimbe, Malawi, has built two more windmills and has dreams of returning to Malawi to continue his work.

Maybe, when we are engaging in the practice of development we need to LOOK more carefully and LISTEN more closely in order to understand what is really going on, and then SUPPORT those people who, in spite of everything around them, are already making a difference!!!

SOME LINKS FOR INFORMATION ON WILLIAM KAMKWAMBA

Would you buy someone else’s dream – with your last pennies?


In January 2012, while on a storytelling course, I was given a story to c0-narrate with a colleague.  It was about a man who bought a dream – and, like some stories do, it left Johnson and I wondering about what the message of the story really was.  Everytime we thought we had grasped it, is seemed to slip away, or raise a different question.  A skeleton version of the story goes like this:

A poor man was sitting with his friend who was fast asleep.  As the friend woke up, a bee flew out of his nose.  He shared his dream which was about finding a pot of gold under a nandin bush in the garden of the richest man in Osaka.  The poor man was so impressed by the dream he took all his savings and bought the dream.  His wife was angry – what use was someone else’s dream?  The man left home, armed with hope, and walked 400 kms to Osaka, and found the rich man’s house.  He asked to spend the night there, and told the rich man the story, asking for help to find the gold.  As he slept the rich man got his servant to dig in the garden and they found a pot.  when they opened it a bee flew out – and there was nothing else inside! He re-buried the pot, and the next day, the poor man dug it up – to find nothing.  He was devastated, and almost did not return home for he was ashamed of what he had done.  But his love for his wife was so strong he returned home.  When he got there she ran up to him and told him that on the day he left, she heard bees in the attic – and when she opened to door a bee flew out, and then lots and lots of gold coins fell out of the  attic.  They were so happy, and were never poor again.  (for a written version of the story go to – http://www.timmyabell.com/mandream.htm or google it)

This story left me feeling like I had not really ‘got it’.  And then I forgot about it… until November when I went to a show by Hugh Masekela and Sibongile Khumalo called ‘Songs of Migration”.  It was a beautiful show exploring, in song, narration and movement, people leaving home in search of … work, riches, refuge – based mainly in South Africa during apartheid, but also touching on immigrants from other parts of the world, and migration in post apartheid South Africa.  At some point Hugh said something like, “Those who stayed at home long for those who have gone.  And those who have gone long to return, but cannot because they have not found what they set out to find.  They are too ashamed to go back.”  And in that moment I thought of that man who had bought a dream – and almost did not return because how could he?  He had used up everything they owned on a ‘foolish’ dream.  How could he face his wife?  And yet his love for her took him back, ready to face the consequences of his foolishness – and he found riches, and love and joy.

There is so much richness in this story – still more to be mined, but as I think of this year – my prayer is that we all have the courage to follow our dreams, and to have the courage, when it fails (or seems to have failed) to go back home to the place of love and acceptance, to have the courage to face the consequences of our failure – and to be open to surprise!!!!!

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