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Captain Waiz success story

Shayal Devi
Sunday, September 10, 2017

AS a young Afghan refugee growing up in the US, Shaesta Waiz was resigned to leading a simple life as a housewife.

Ms Waiz, one of six girls born to parents who fled their homeland after the Afghan-Soviet war in 1987, arrived in the US when she was barely a year old.

And like many stories of refugees, hers is a tale wrought with despair, challenges and ultimately, success.

Captain Waiz, as she is known today, aims to be the youngest female pilot to circumnavigate the globe at 29.

Piloting a single engine Beechcraft Bonanza A30, the California resident landed in Fiji late last month as her journey came to an end.

Speaking to the media, Ms Waiz shared how she joined aviation ? a dream which was once her father's.


Growing up with both her traditional and the Western culture was invariably a challenge, though one which shaped Ms Waiz into the woman she is today.

"I was barely a year old when I came to the US so I grew up in these two different cultures," she says.

"At home we only spoke Farsi and spoke English in school. I was extremely shy and being one of six girls, I always thought my future was me being a housewife."

After experiencing her first flight at 18, she decided to enter the aviation field.

"I started pilot training at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, and in my class, we had over 250 students with only 20 females.

"Of my graduating class, only four continued with their studies and completed the flight training course."

Journey to inspire

Dreams Soar, a non-profit organisation founded in 2014 and incorporated in 2016, aims to inspire the next generation of those involved in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

It was through this project Ms Waiz decided to embark on her solo mission.

Prior to starting her solo round-the-world trip, Ms Waiz attempted to fly across the Atlantic Ocean twice.

"The first time, there was this antenna hanging outside the plane, it's a HF (high frequency) antenna and when you transition from being overland to being over water, you use that antenna to make radio calls with the different stations around the world.

"So the first time I took off to fly across the Atlantic, which is one of the most dangerous oceans; out there the weather changes instantly and its cold and mother nature ? you never know what's going to happen, this antenna sheared off.

"I was about 300 miles into the ocean when this antenna shears off my airplane and is hitting the airplane and I can't communicate with anyone. My only form of communication was gone and I looked down and saw waves crashing.

"I was at 7000 feet and it's a big reality that hits you, I didn't see anybody, no boats or land and I quickly turned the airplane around and went towards the nearest airport available and it was a two-hour trip."

She managed to get the airplane to safety after flying to an airport for full repairs. It was during this time she relooked at her plan to fly across the world.

"I sat on that flight and I thought if I want to give up, now is the time. Then I don't have to cross the Atlantic but I said no, I have to be brave. There are so many girls out there who have heard about me and what I'm going to do and they're waiting for someone to show them women can be courageous.

"I'm a refugee. My family did not have money and I really thought this life has nothing to offer me and I wanted to show you don't have to come from any background, wealth or anything to pursue your dreams and understand that there are going to be days when you want to give up.

"It just means keep going and that's the message I've been passing."

Reaching for the record

Ms Waiz's journey to become the youngest woman to fly round the world solo began on May 13 at Daytona Beach, Florida.

The major challenges she has faced during this time include fatigue as well as physical and mental health.

"The space is small but you have this view of endless ocean and land so for me it's not claustrophobic and I don't struggle with claustrophobia but when I land my back usually really hurts," she said.

"When I rest, I do a lot of stretches and yoga and keep the blood flowing because it could be dangerous if you don't exercise enough."

Her everyday routine starts at about 4.30am, another challenge for Ms Waiz, who says she is "not a morning person".

"I get up at 4.30am or 5am and I look over all the weather and the night before. I look at the flight planning, what my highest obstacles are and where the nearest airports are and if I lose my engine where I am going to land and I do that the night before.

"In the morning, I do a brief overview of the weather. I usually then go out to the aircraft, do my inspection, take some last minute pictures with people who are there with me and pack everything,

"I look at the weather again before departing. It's so crazy because once that engine starts, I don't think about how tired I am or anything."

Life after the journey

What else is left to do after travelling across the globe? Quite a lot, says Ms Waiz.

"When I went to Afghanistan, I met with the president, the first lady and the prime minister, minister of transport, women's affairs and also, I met with a lot of young women," she says.

"Girls go to school so they are educated. So you have these smart women who are staying at home because it's too dangerous to walk around Kabul.

"What I want to do is start a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) school there so we focus on using Afghanistan's natural resources on solving issues like providing sanitary water, and solar energy.

"It will make life easier for people and it will be amazing to have young girls work on those solutions. It will be great having STEM schools, maybe one here in Fiji to help empower one another."

Follow your dreams

Having a supportive family is one of the key essentials when it comes to success and this is also true in Ms Waiz's case.

Describing her parents as "very supportive", she says she had the opportunity to realise her father's dream of becoming a pilot, something he was unable to achieve because of the war.

However, there have been some people adamant on crushing her dream.

"There have been people in my family who just made it really hard, even after I got my private pilot's licence, they were still like: "this is a waste of time and money".

"I was crushed. I wanted to cry and say I give up but no, I said I can do this. I know I can and that's how I went about this whole journey of becoming a pilot."

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