As a child, she managed to escape the Afghan-Soviet conflict with her family, born in a refugee camp and was the first person ever in her entire family to attend University. Today Captain Shaesta Waiz has become the youngest woman in the world to fly a single-engine plane around the world. The 30-year-old civilian pilot is part of the upcoming generation of female pilots and is motivating women to pursue the same.
The goal of promoting STEM among women
A historic journey that took 145 days, visiting 22 countries with one single-engine 2001 Beechcraft Bonanza A36 aircraft, she completed her journey at Daytona Beach in Florida, the city that made all her dreams come true. Visiting places like Australia, India and Singapore, she would spend time with fellow pilots and people from the aviation industry. But most of the time, she would promote the message of women in STEM among the people who came to welcome her. Therefore, the goal of the flight was not the speed of the aircraft, but rather encouraging women to follow their dreams and this is what she did at every stop. Currently, women just make up 6% of the world’s pilots and Waiz is hoping to change this number by encouraging women.
An emotional homecoming to Afghanistan
However, flying to her home country after 29 years made her incredibly nervous, “When I was there I saw there was a big opportunity for me to make a difference for these girls. [I want to] help solve some of the challenges Afghan people face on a daily basis.” She was met with young girls who wanted to become pilots just like her and she hopes their dreams will come true like they did for her. After immigrating to America, her family lived in an impoverished area in California, where no one was interested in aviation. After boarding a flight from California to Florida, she was inspired to pursue the field. Despite the challenge of an expensive education, with Embry-Riddle costing up to $25,000 a year, she applied for many scholarships and donor support to finance her education.
In 2014, she started Dreams Soar, a non-profit organisation that specifically helps women pursue education and careers in STEM and aviation, with the additional help of mentorship programs that are not only catered to Afghan women and girls, but everyone.
Image credit: dreamssoar.org