Afghan ex-refugee Shaesta Waiz on round-the-world solo flight
A woman born in an Afghan refugee camp is flying around the world to inspire other women to follow their dreams.
Shaesta Waiz, 29, is the first female certified civilian pilot from Afghanistan and aims to be the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.
She started her epic flight in a small, single-engine plane from the US where she now lives and recently arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Ms Waiz told reporters she was excited to be back in the country of her birth.
“It’s been almost 29 years. To come back to the country as a pilot who is flying around the world to inspire others – it makes me really happy to be here,” she said.
Ms Waiz was born in a refugee camp and travelled from Afghanistan to the US in 1987 with her parents and five sisters to escape the Soviet-Afghan war.
She grew up in an underprivileged area of Richmond, California, and said it wasn’t until she discovered aviation that she started thinking about going to college and having a career.
“When I was a little girl I thought maybe I would go to college, but I would get married at a young age and have a family. But then I found something that I really loved and that’s flying,” she told a news conference in Kabul.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be the pilot of your own aeroplane and to fly wherever your heart desires. It’s a passion that I really enjoy, that I protect, and that I want women from Afghanistan to experience as well.”
She founded a non-profit organisation called Dreams Soar and wants her flight around the world to help inspire girls and young women to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.
Ms Waiz is the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.
She says her message is that you can come “from any background, you can have any set of challenges but what’s really important is that you have to dream, to dream big and work hard and go after it”.
Ms Waiz began her journey in Florida on 13 May and is visiting 19 countries in her Beechcraft Bonanza A36 plane. After leaving Afghanistan she will fly on through Asia and Australia before crossing the US back to Florida.
She says she already has plans to return to Afghanistan.
“In a couple of years I have every intention of coming back here and maybe opening a flight school or doing something so that women can experience aviation in Afghanistan,” she said.
“Women are suffering here a lot,” she added. “I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be educated, to find something that I love which is flying and it breaks my heart because I know there are a lot of girls my age who haven’t had the opportunities.
“I want to do something to give back to these women.”