The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Voices of Keepod: Jonathan

Meet Jonathan. He’s sixteen. He has three sisters, two older and one younger. And he’s absolutely crazy about electric cars. Bring anything up about mechanics in conversation, and Jonathan’s face lights up.

Jonathan is partially deaf in one ear, and has had a speech impediment since birth. When he was young, his teacher Maurice described him as “curious and inventive.”

“But he was not motivated,” he added.

But Jonathan’s disabilities were not what diminished his motivation. Jonathan knew he could teach himself to overcome his disabilities.

Instead, what diminished Jonathan’s motivation was what he could not do: he could not access information the way he needed to. Living in Malawi, Jonathan did not have access to a computer. None of his classmates did.

That was a limitation that Jonathan could not overcome, no matter how hard he tried. As a curious kid, this knowledge gap made it difficult for him to be motivated in school.

When Jonathan was fourteen, things changed. A Keepod project was brought to his school. Each student was given a Keepod device, which is an operating system on a USB drive. Students could plug their Keepod into one of the new computers, and turn it into a personal desktop. Internet connection was also donated.

The project gave Jonathan access to the world of information that he so desperately wanted.

“When I first tried a computer at school, I was so excited. I felt that much was to be discovered.”

Personal computing was Jonathan’s missing piece: “Jonathan became motivated,” his teacher said. He could finally make use of his curiosity and creativity. He could finally innovate and build.

When Jonathan first used a computer at school, he researched how to build electric cars, which were his favorite. He then used the knowledge he learned to build one on his own. He also used the computer to learn how to construct a windmill that generated electricity.

But access to personal computing did more than just motivate and enable Jonathan to learn and to create. It inspired him to help others. After building a windmill that generated electricity, Jonathan wanted to teach others how to do the same. He knew that this technology could be a game-changer for homes and schools that were living without power.

Jonathan’s Windmill Instructions

Jonathan hand-wrote instructions on how to build a windmill, and distributed them via the Outernet. He became the first Malawian ever to distribute instructions on how to build electricity generation in the Chichewa language. Now, many people could benefit from the information that Jonathan learned on the computer.

Jonathan’s achievements did not go unnoticed. He received a scholarship to attend the Mua School for deaf children in recognition of his outstanding creativity.

Before he gained access to personal computing, Jonathan’s mother never had the resources to send him to a school for his disabilities. She earns less than $1 a day. Computer access enabled Jonathan to create opportunities for himself, by himself.

But Jonathan’s big break was yet to come. In December 2016, he was invited to the ICT Association of Malawi’s innovation awards, which recognized tech innovations that had brought socio-economic development to Malawi. Jonathan was asked to help Shift IT present, the nonprofit that brought Keepod to his school. They were nominated for an award.

Jonathan presented his newest self-made car to a panel of judges and an audience-filled room. He had learned how to build this car on the computer. He showcased all of its nuts and bolts: the foot pedal throttle that makes the back wheels move. The radio speaker and the USB charger on the car’s dashboard. The lights that flash when the car is turning.

Shift IT received the Education and Training award. “Jonathan’s participation played a huge role in our receipt of the award” said Carl, the co-founder of Shift IT.

Jonathan and Carl, Shift IT co-founder

Shift IT was awarded a cash prize, half of which they gave to Jonathan and his family. “That money is set to change Jonathan’s life. Especially because there is now a food crisis in Malawi,” said Carl.

The other half of the prize was donated to Jonathan’s school, and will be put towards electricity units for the new year.

“With these units, Jonathan can now research how to build a much bigger windmill on the computer” said his teacher Maurice. “The new windmill that Jonathan creates will pump water and generate electricity for our entire school.”

I asked Jonathan what his life would be like if he had never accessed personal computing.

“My life would be far behind what it is now. The computer has led me to discover many new, different things. It has led to improve my skills and my knowledge. It has helped me build windmills and cars. Personal computing access has changed my life.

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70% of our world is still living without access to personal computing. Visit www.keepod.com to learn more about our projects, purchase a Keepod, or donate. For every Keepod you buy, we give one to a person living without computer access. Buy one, give one.