Female Afghan pilot flies around the world to promote STEM, aviation dreams

Female Afghan pilot flies around the world to promote STEM, aviation dreams
Sahesta Waiz, the first female Afghan pilot to circumnavigate the world at a workshop with two children at Kidzania, The Dubai Mall. - Photo by Leslie Pableo

Dubai - Shaesta Waiz's 90-day solo journey in her Beechcraft Bonanza A36 aircraft will see 30 stops in 19 countries on five different continents


Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Published: Sun 9 Jul 2017, 9:51 PM

Last updated: Sun 9 Jul 2017, 11:55 PM

Afghanistan pilot Shaesta Waiz is on mission: become the youngest woman woman to fly around the world solo, and - just as importantly - instill a love of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in the minds of the young people who may one day take to the skies on their own.
The 29-year-old Waiz's 90-day journey in her Beechcraft Bonanza A36 aircraft began on May 13 at Florida's Daytona Beach International Airport. By the time her journey is finished, Waiz will have made 30 stops in 19 countries on five different continents - a total distance of over 25,000 nautical miles.
At each stop, Waiz is hosting events with young people to promote STEM education and encourage youngsters with aviation or science dreams of their own. The initiative is led by Dream Soar, a non-profit organisation she founded in 2014 and which is supported by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
"I'm flying solo around the world to inspire young boys and and girls to believe in their dreams, go after them and watch them soar," she told a crowd of youngsters at gathered at Kidzania in Dubai Mall. "I started two months ago. The UAE is my 11th international stop."
Waiz - who was born in a refugee camp during the Soviet war in Afghanistan - discovered her love of flying at a young age, having emigrated to the United States in 1987.
Despite being one of six children in her family and studying in an underprivileged and troubled school district in the town of Richmond, California, Waiz went on to become the youngest certified pilot to hail from Afghanistan, as well as the first member of her family to earn a bachelor's and a master's, both from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
"I was extremely shy, and struggled a lot in school. English was my third language, and it was very difficult for me to speak or even read in English. It wasn't until I found something that I was really excited and motivated in life," she said. "Because I found something, it motivated me to apply and challenge myself."
"That something was to fly," she added. "Aviation made me feel strong, like I had a sense of purpose. The airplane doesn't know if you're a boy, or a girl, or if you're from Afghanistan, or Africa. There is no discrimination in a plane. It's a machine. It accepts you for who you are."
The most important advice she can give youngsters, she noted, is to follow their aspirations. "If people didn't dream, we wouldn't have the things we have today. If it wasn't for a dream, we wouldn't have aircraft or engines," she said. "People from around the world are here (in the UAE) because they have a dream and are inspired to make an impact.
"You should dream, and you should dream big," Waiz added. "We need more young boys and girls to be excited about these careers."
From Dubai, Waiz will head to Mumbai and Kolkata, before continuing the Asian leg of her journey in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. She will then take off for Australia and Fiji before returning to US territory in American Samoa and Hawaii. Her trip will eventually end where it began, in Daytona Beach.

More news from UAE