William Kamkwamba of Malawi - DIY

See video below from TED presentation by this young African Do-It-Yourselfer.   There is also a very funny and inspiring interview with Mr. Kamkwamba on the Jon Stewart Show.  At the end of the Jon Stewart Show, Kamkwamba talks about discovering the internet for the first time (after he built the windmill).

I feel some contradictions in the justified excitement around this boy, when there are so many boys like him.   Not a majority, by any means, but these kids are about one in ten thousand, and out of a few billion, that adds up.   I love young people like this, and they are everywhere.

You don't have to wait for Jon Stewart or TED to find these people.  They tend to find internet cafes if they are not from very rural areas, like Kamkwamba has been.  In fact, they are often the entrepreneurs behind the internet cafes, and they get computers wherever they can.

"Hey, how about we boycott them?" 

Ok, I'm sure you mean well, what you mean is that if they are exploited, we should refrain from exploiting them.  But Fair Trade is about engaging with them.  People with zero export policy can claim not to have exploited people in these countries, but they cannot claim to have helped them.

Listen to the part about cell phones, and ask yourself what kind of cell phones they have in Malawi.  This isn't about "e-waste" per se.  It is about creativity, connections, and the spread of knowledge.  That has a LOT to do with internet access, and internet access has a WHOLE LOT to do with exports of "intact units" from recycling collections.

Say no to people who don't remove the junk.  Say no to the people who don't test the good ones.  I am trying to break the logical fallacy which causes great websites like TreeHugger to  post about boycotting the "ewaste" bootstrappers when it comes to electronics, but to applaud wildly the "DIY Hero" kid who makes the windmill which powers the cell phones that came in used ewaste exports.

Readers of my blog will know that I am not a "gotcha" guy trying to trip up environmental activists, and I am not calling for a free-for-all in the export market.  I am an advocate of Fair Trade.   The problem is that not enough people are exporting, and the demand is met by lower common denominators. The solution to "e-waste" being peddled is a boycott, a prohibition, a "no export" policy, which is the moral equivalent of sending African Americans back to Liberia.   The entrepreneurs and recyclers and technicians are already in the business in Africa, they already have their own domestic electronic scrap which is growing in volume.  You cannot put the genie back in the bottle.

Fair Trade Recycling is the only solution.  It just so happens that it's extremely rewarding, and you can meet people like William Kamkwamba several times a year.  You can invite them to your USA recycling facility, you can put them up at your house.  You can become close friends with them, such good friends that you are emboldened to tell organizations like BAN and Greenpeace, Touche Pas a Mon Pote.

Here again is the blog guest entry by Jean Frederic Fahiri Somda of Burkina Faso, who spent 6 months training with us at Good Point Recycling in Middlebury.

More to William Kamkwamba's story is the fictional character I created a year ago, in "An E-Waste Story" about Fahrou.  See the bicycle in the photo above, and remember the story about bicycle repair.

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