William Kamkwamba

The author, subject, and protagonist of the narrative. William’s characteristic innovation, perseverance, and love for science drive him to find solutions to the problems in his life. The windmill, his signature invention, gains him access to higher education and contact with like-minded inventors and innovators.  

Trywell Kamkwamba

William’s father. Trywell was a tradesman who struggled with drinking and gambling until he found religion. He is an integral influence on William, whose rational mind contrasts the magical thinking of their Malawian community. Trywell’s rationality, sacrifice, and support shape William’s path to becoming a scientist.

Agnes Kamkwamba

William’s mother. Agnes is a caretaker who finds creative solutions to save her struggling family, such as selling cakes in the market. Although she loves and supports William, she fears another famine and doubts William’s pursuit at times.


William’s cousin and son of Uncle John. Geoffrey is often found by William’s side going to school, hunting, or scouring the scrapyard. His unquestioning support and encouragement help William persevere.


William’s friend and son of Chief Wimbe. Gilbert supports William and buys parts like the bicycle dynamo. Gilbert’s generosity helps William achieve his goals. 

Chief Wimbe

Gilbert’s father and leader of the village. Chief Wimbe is a pillar of his community and an undaunted leader during the famine. He gives food to the starving and begs the president for help, even though he is beaten for the attempt. 

President Muluzi

The president of Malawi. In an act of blatant corruption, President Muluzi sells the country’s grain stores and cuts aid to farmers. He refuses to recognize the famine until it is already over.

Uncle John

William’s uncle, Trywell’s brother, and Geoffrey’s father. Uncle John built the family’s farming business and convinced Trywell to join him. His sudden death marks a pivotal change in William’s life.

Dr. Hartford Mchazime

The head of Malawi Teacher Training Activity. Dr. Mchazime becomes William’s mentor and he is responsible for shedding light on William’s story. Dr. Mchazime supports William’s talents, fights for his education, and prepares him for the new direction his life is taking.

Tom Reilly

The organizer for corporate sponsors at TED. Tom takes William under his wing at the conference. He introduces William to technological advancements, helps him with his presentation, assists with his education, and brings him to America.