Today, William Kamkwamba is a 22-year-old in Malawi. Back seven years ago, when he was just 14, the country went through one of its worst-ever droughts. Thousands of people died, and his farming family had to survive on one meal a day without any income to speak of. The situation prompted him to get creative. His solution? He taught himself how to build windmills.

“I wanted to do something to help and change things,” Kamkwamba said, per Science Times.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Then I thought to myself, ‘If they can make electricity out of wind, I can try, too.”

Kamkwamba had plenty of time to read about the subject, because he’d been kicked out of school for being unable to pay his school fees. He spent his days at the library, where he came across a book with photos of windmills.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“I thought, this thing exists in this book, it means someone else managed to build this machine,” he said.

And so, he figured out how. He used items from junkyards, including bike parts, plastic pipes, tractor fans and car batteries. Kamkwamba said people laughed at him when he explained what he was doing.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

But several years later, he has five windmills up to 37 feet tall. They generate electricity and pump water in his hometown of Masitala.

He’s been recognized all over the world for his ingenuity – Al Gore has specifically applauded his initiative. William now attends the African Leadership Academy, an elite school for young leaders in South Africa, where his education is fully funded by donors.