Did you always want to be a pilot?
Yes, I always wanted to be a pilot. When I finished high school my father asked me what career I wanted to pursue and out of a list I chose aviation. There are few women pilots in Kenya and since I had attained good grades in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, I was able to enrol for the course.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
My family comes from the Tana River on the Coast but I grew up in Nairobi. I have an older sister who is a doctor. I also have two younger brothers. Most girls in Tana River, never have the opportunity to finish high school, and when they manage to finish their primary education, they end up getting married early. I can count the number of female cousins who fell victim to early marriages.
THAT MEANS THEY NEVER HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO PURSUE AN EDUCATION...
Yes. They could have turned out better if they had gotten opportunities; if they had completed schooling. My uncles refer to me as ‘Pilot’, to imply that I am successful, especially because I am female. My family is proud of me; my loved ones consider me as the one who was able to break through. Of course, I am always there for the ones who have not made it this far. Every December, I have an opportunity to talk to the youth back in the village, encouraging them to finish school and become better people. This way, we can collectively reshape the community.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO GIRLS FACE?
I do not want to blame the girls. I believe parents play a big role in shaping the lives of their children. As for me, I wanted to drop out of aviation and it is my parents who kept encouraging me not to give up. Parents should nurture their children and help them pursue their dreams.
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WHAT BARRIERS HAVE YOU FACED ON YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING A PILOT?
Of course, there are those religious and cultural norms. In the Swahili community, women are supposed to be at home, and not the office. I had to fight to break through. I am now married and I have a child and so I motivate young girls through my story, having broken great barriers. You have to know your self-worth and be clear about your vision.
HOW DO PEOPLE REACT WHEN THEY DISCOVER YOU ARE A PILOT?
People always assume I am a cabin crew. The journey has not been easy though. In 2014 after completing high school, I started the aviation journey as you might know, aviation is a costly course, and paying fees was not easy. I took a break and sought a job elsewhere and that is when I met the man of my dreams and we got married. At some point, he encouraged me to go back to school. We had a baby and I went back to West Rift Aviation Limited. It has been a plus having a man who accepts me as I am and who encourages me to pursue my dream career.
WHAT LESSONS DO YOU HAVE FOR WOMEN PURSUING DEMANDING PROFESSIONS?
I always tell women to learn how to balance all the facets of their life - from career to family. For example, I do not have to give excuses for not doing wifely duties because I am a pilot with a busy schedule out there. I do not even keep a house help. I wake up early and prepare breakfast for my husband. I drop my son to school and then go to work. After work, I pick him up, get home, and fix dinner.
DO YOU THINK WOMEN ARE HELD BACK?
I am an example of how one can make a good professional woman while still being the best at work. It is a matter of balancing, organising yourself and knowing how to segment and prioritise family and work time. During weekends for me, it is family time and during the week, it is work. Once you understand the demands that your career holds, you learn how to balance that with your family life. Sometimes I leave the workplace late and I get to compensate for that lost family time during the weekends.
WHICH WOMEN IN THE KENYAN AVIATION SPACE INSPIRE YOU?
Yes, there are quite a number who inspire my dreams because of the achievements they have attained in their aviation journey. I would like to single out Irene Koki Mutungi of Kenya Airways. This is a woman who has broken barriers for us women, having to be the first female on the African continent to become certified as a Captain of the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft. We must applaud her for breaking the glass ceiling.
YOU ARE A FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR WITH WEST RIFT AVIATION AND ALSO A PILOT...
My new role as a flight instructor challenges me that I should do better. As a new CGI (Certified Ground Instructor), I have been able to identify gaps; I am taking this role to make the undertaking better by creating better synergies. That is what I am trying to fix for now. I want to make new rules, mostly on matters of discipline.
WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER ASPIRATIONS?
I would like to be a captain. That is a goal I have and I know it is attainable. I also want to open an aviation school. I have always wanted to fly.
WHAT DO YOU DO DURING YOUR FREE TIME?
I love swimming and reading books. My hobbies help me to relax after a busy flying schedule.