When we hear about Rwanda, most people’s thoughts return to the horrific civil war that broke out in 1994 and led to the slaughter of over one million Tutsi and Hutu citizens. Though the country has worked hard to put the tragic events behind it, most people’s perception of the central African nation is still one of conflict and war. Out of the ashes of the past, many Rwandans, like 26-year-old Esther Mbabazi, have gone on to do amazing things.
Mbabazi overcame the odds to become Rwanda’s first female pilot, a feat many thought was impossible.
“Growing up I wanted to be a pilot when I was four,” she said. “I’d never been inside a cockpit but I used to see a plane in the sky and I imagined that thing must be flown by someone.”
“I had to go for it. Even though it looked like a long shot, it was my only shot — that’s how I saw it so I went for it, and here I am.”
After taking a chance and buying a one-way ticket to Uganda to attend pilot school, Mbabazi became a pilot for RwandAir, the nation’s national carrier, at just 24.
“When I went it was a one-way decision,” she said. “If they bounce me, I’ll just pack my things and come back — so that was the way I joined pilot school, and it was a long journey.”
Despite experiencing sexism, Mbabazi hasn’t let that stop her from living her dream.
“Time has changed,” she said. “Women are out there working, technology has changed, and everyone has the brains to do something, now it’s not about how much bicep or how much energy you have.”