Afghan-American female pilot breaks barriers

From Florida, 29-year-old Shaesta Waiz embarks on potentially record-breaking flight around the world.

Shaesta Waiz was born in a refugee camp at the end of the Soviet war in Afghanistan before moving to the US with her family in 1987.

The 29-year-old discovered a passion for flying and obtained her pilot’s licence, becoming the youngest certified civilian female pilot from Afghanistan.

Now, Waiz wants to share that sense of freedom of soaring high above the ground with other young women.

Waiz, an engineering graduate, took off from Daytona Beach, Florida, last week aboard her Beechcraft Bonanza A36.

She has mapped out a route that will take her approximately 25,800km to more than 18 countries – including Spain, Egypt, India, Singapore and Australia – before ending the trip back in Florida in August.

During her 30 stopovers, Waiz and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – which is backing her trip – will host events to engage school children in science, notably aeronautics.

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“Aviation did something to me that I have never felt before; it has given me a sense of purpose,” she told Al Jazeera from Montreal, Canada.

“I really hope they can just appreciate an Afghan woman going around the world doing something so brave.”

On the website of Dreams Soar, her non-profit organisation, Waiz commented: “Every time I open the door of an aircraft, I ask myself, ‘How did a girl with my background become so lucky? The truth is, anyone can be me’.”

According to ICAO figures, less than five percent of commercial pilots are women.

“It can be shown that no matter what background and origin an individual has, they can still achieve those objectives,” Michiel Vreedenburgh, chief of implementation planning and support section at ICAO, told Al Jazeera.

“It provides a better example that it can be achieved by anybody no matter where you come from.” 

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