This week, we celebrated International Women’s Day. To commemorate, I wanted to share with you a handful of stories from a group of inspiring women – Bessie Coleman, Esther Mbabazi, Sunita Narula, Kshamta Bajpai, Indira Singh, Gunjan Aggarwal, Sharifah Czarena Surainy Syed Hashim, Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem and Sariana Nordin.
Each of these women is a trailblazer in the air – they are all pilots.
Bessie Coleman was the first African-American and first Native-American pilot. Coleman was born in Texas, where she worked in cotton fields at a young age. But she also was able to study in a small school and developed an incredible interest in aviation. No schools in the US would permit her to attend (both because of her heritage and her gender), so she saved up enough funds to go to France and obtained her license. She returned to the US with dreams of opening a school for African American aviators. She died in 1926 in flight.
Esther Mbabazi is Rwanda’s first female pilot. Like Coleman, she knew from a young age that she wanted to fly, despite her father passing away in a plane crash. She packed her things and moved to Uganda to attend school and get her pilot’s license. Today, she works for RwandAir, aiming to break barriers and inspire young Rwandan girls.
Gunjan Aggarwal, Sharifah Czarena Surainy Syed Hashim, Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem and Sariana Nordin made headlines last year as part of the first all-female pilot crew for Royal Brunei Airlines. The flight landed in Saudi Arabia – notable since the ladies were not permitted to drive there, but landed a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the Saudi airport on February 23rd, 2016. In particular Syed Hashim was also the first female captain for the airline.
And last week, Air India made history with an all-female crew flying from San Francisco to New Delhi. The entire crew – cockpit, cabin, check-in, doctor, ground crew – even the flight dispatcher, all women. And while it’s easy to dismiss this one as some sort of publicity stunt, it’s also worth considering that each of those crew members has faced a significant struggle to become successful in their chosen field.
Only 3% of pilots worldwide are women. It’s perhaps the most stark contrast in any profession across the globe – even in the military, women make up close to 15% of the total number serving. And in researching each of these women’s stories, I saw two things in common among them all – first, the knowledge early in their lives that they wanted to be in the air; and second, a unique opportunity that made this dream a reality. It made me remember that among our 2,300 students – at least one of them wants to be a pilot. At least one of them dreams of spending their life in the air. And it’s our obligation, our responsibility to provide them with a strong foundation of knowledge – how to read, how to add/subtract/multiply, how to communicate, and prepare them for secondary school and beyond. Let’s get to it.