South Africa’s first black helicopter pilot aims higher than the sky ~ #REUTERS:

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Refilwe Ledwaba, South Africa’s first black helicopter pilot, wants to change the face of aviation in Africa by involving African women, who are reluctant to work traditionally considered to be reserved only for men.

Barely in her forties, she teaches young people in training how to fly aircraft. She also runs the Girls Fly Program in Africa (GFPA), a foundation that aims to introduce primary and secondary school students to science, technology, engineering and math.

Her foundation enables her to meet the challenges she faced upon entering the aviation industry, breaking down cultural and social barriers in aviation at the local level.

Positive encounters

Ledwaba grew up in Lenyenye in Limpopo, a province in northeastern South Africa, in a single-parent family with six siblings. Her mother, a teacher, raised her seven children on her own.

Having lived in apartheid, Ledwaba was far from imagining that she could become a pilot.

“I never thought that flying or becoming a pilot was a viable career choice for me, because I have never seen anyone like me follow this career”, recognizes Refilwe Ledwaba, the first female pilot of the South African Police Service.

“When you’re a woman and a black person, it’s a double whammy. If you don’t have the right people, you could be (Albert) Einstein, but you’ll never make it.”, she confessed to Reuters.

As Refilwe Ledwaba wanted to become a doctor, she studied biochemistry at the University of Cape Town. To finance her studies and repay her student loan, she got a job as a flight attendant.

That’s when she finds herself interviewed for a job in an industry she knew nothing about. She got a cabin attendant job even though she had never been near a plane before she was 17.

“I was supposed to go to medical school, but I couldn’t [par manque d’argent] and I started to work as a flight attendant “, she confessed to Forbes Africa.

It was during her training as a cabin crew member that she realized that she was interested in flying airplanes.

His white colleagues then encouraged him to become a pilot. One of them, a pilot himself, offers to train her for free if she covers the cost of fuel.

In 2005, the young South African had the chance to learn to fly helicopters at a government school outside Durban.

By the time she flew solo, she realized that she had broken down the barriers of race and gender in one fell swoop.

Months later, she became the first black female helicopter pilot to join the ranks of the South African police force.

In 2010, Ledwaba launched the Girls Fly in Africa (GFPA) program to introduce girls in primary and secondary school to science and technology at a young age.

Now an instructor, she trains hundreds of young women in aerospace and aviation. It operates in four African countries. His foundation has already organized space camps in South Africa, Botswana and Cameroon and is planning one in Kenya soon.

For five days, the teams teach girls about the aviation industry, from initiation to flight to learning robotics and using the stimulator.

It intends to include several other African countries in the future.

“I dream of a future where a small child can just wake up and say, ‘I’m going to do this career someday’ without any doubt crossing their mind.”, she says.

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Source: Reuters-VOA.

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